Can Bangabandhu Cup spark a kabaddi revival?
Success is a wonderful thing. It can build confidence, rejuvenate the system and create enthusiasm and a positive environment which often lead to more success.
The Shaheed Noor Hossain Volleyball Stadium in Paltan recently staged the Bangabandhu Cup International Kabaddi Tournament for the second time.
It was a successful event: professionally organised and well-orchestrated, with a decent amount of media coverage, guests taken good care of, with the hosts keeping hold of the trophy – all reasons for the organisers to look forward to next year with more anticipation and optimism.
Yet, as the dust settles on the mat of Shaheed Noor Hossain, there are a couple of questions which need to be looked into, with a certain amount of introspection, too. These are questions that need to be answered if one wants to judge the real state of the country's national sport.
The first question that springs to mind is why on earth would an international kabaddi tournament be held at a volleyball stadium, especially when there is a kabaddi stadium nearby? The kabaddi stadium may not be in a very good shape currently, but with a bit of financing and renovation, it could be turned into an international-standard one. Kabaddi, after all, is our national sport and that national sport at least deserves a home of its own.
The second question strikes once one goes through the list of the participating teams – England, Kenya, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The second edition added three more teams to the first, yet all the seven other teams are below Bangladesh (5) in world ranking, like it was in the first edition when Bangladesh were the top-ranked among the five teams. It is certainly not by chance that the top four teams in the world – India, Iran, Pakistan and South Korea – have been conspicuously absent from both editions of the meet, leaving the hosts as happy hunters in their own backyard.
Success is a wonderful thing. It can build confidence, rejuvenate the system and create enthusiasm and a positive environment which often lead to more success. Looking from this perspective, the Bangabandhu Cup was a success on and off the field.
But will that success be translated to success on a bigger platform, like when our team meets the higher-ranked teams in the next Asian Games or even the South Asian Games? Won't this annual ritual of glitzy opening and ticker-tape closing turn into an exercise in futility unless the game is strengthened from the root and the players allowed a decent living?
Bangladesh used to be the second-best in the sport when it was introduced in South Asian Games in mid '80s and in the Asian Games in the '90s, meaning a silver medal was a certainty in those days. But with the turn of the century, as the sport started to gain footing in countries beyond South Asia, our standing began to weaken. Our men's team have not won an Asian Games medal in a decade-and-a-half while the women's team failed to retain their bronze medal in the last edition.
These failures at the international stage can be squarely blamed on decades of apathy and inertial tendencies of the kabaddi officials of the country. For decades, the sport was left to decay in the shadow of more glamorous and money-earning sports in the pretext of a lack of funds while the coffers of Bangladesh Kabaddi Federation reportedly became subject of misappropriation. The only reason some athletes even stayed back with kabaddi was the lure of a job in the defence services, namely, Ansar, BGB, Police, Navy, Army, Air Force, etc.
Fortunately, things have started to change since the new committee took over the reins around five years ago. The national meets have started to take place regularly while the IGP Youth Cup, a youth kabaddi tournament aimed at unearthing and training young talents from across the country, got good momentum.
This is definitely a good start, but the activities need to be widened and sustained to reap long-term rewards. Organising international meets can be a starting point to create a buzz, but to sustain and translate that to international success, the sport needs to be groomed from bottom-up and kabaddi players need to be ensured a sustainable income source from the game. Only then will the Bangabandhu Cup and such events fetch their desired outcome.