Bangladesh will field a 462-member team of athletes in the 13th South Asian Games starting in Kathmandu today, hoping to better their dismal performance from the previous edition three years ago.
In the 2016 edition held in Guwahati and Shillong, Bangladesh finished fifth among eight countries -- Afghanistan were part of the South Asian Olympic Committee at that time -- with 75 medals, including only four gold medals.
Swimmer Mahfuza Khatun Shila’s double-gold haul along with gold medals from weightlifter Mabia Akter Simanta and shooter Shakil Ahmed barely saved face for the Red and Greens. But this time Bangladesh are expecting a much better medal-haul, partly due to better preparation but mostly owing to the absence of India and Pakistan in a number of major disciplines.
“We are not considering who are playing and who are not, but on our own, we are convinced that we can perform much better than the previous time. It’s difficult to say how many gold medals we will target, but I hope we will get a double-digit of gold medals,” Bangladesh contingent’s chef de mission Asaduzzaman Kohinoor told reporters yesterday on the eve of the Games’ opening in Kathmandu.
While swimmer Shila will only be carrying the national flag this time around, there are hopes of gold medals from quite a few individual events as well as team events.
Cricket is one of the team events that Bangladesh are pinning their hopes on. The country won the gold in medal in men’s cricket, beating Sri Lanka in the final in 2010 in Dhaka, the only time cricket was featured in these regional games. This time again, with India and Pakistan not participating, Bangladesh will eye a gold medal and the main competition may come from Sri Lanka once again.
Bangladesh will field the High Performance team, featuring a number of national team players including Soumya Sarkar and skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto, which recently finished second in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup where they beat Sri Lanka comfortably in group stages.
Bangladesh have a good opportunity to win a gold medal in women’s cricket too where the near-full-strength national team could be challenged for the title by an under-23 team from Sri Lanka.
Football is another team event where Bangladesh could do really well, according to everyone concerned, with the continuous upward graph of performance of the senior team as well as age-group teams over the past one-and-a-half year.
While shooting used to bring a lot of medals in earlier times, there is not much conviction among the shooting officials regarding gold medal hopes. However, two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Abdullah Hel Baki will look to end his gold draught in these regional games while Shakil would hope to emulate his feat from the last time.
While shooting has faded as a medal-boosting discipline, archery has ascended as a discipline of aspiration for Bangladesh. In the absence of Indian archers due to suspension on the country from the game’s world governing body, Bangladesh could lead the medal-haul in this discipline which offers 10 gold medals. Ruman Sana will be at the centre of attention as far as Bangladesh’s archery hopes are concerned.
While swimming and athletics does not evoke too much faith for Bangladesh in recent times, individual performers like swimmers Ariful Islam and Junayna Ahmed and high-jumper Mahfuzur Rahman have shown enough evidence in recent times to dream. Karateka brothers Hassan Khan Sun and Hossain Khan Moon could also bring glory like they did in 2010 while Taekwondo could produce a number of top medals, according to Bangladesh officials.
There is also hope that the new generation of amateur golfers could emulate the gold-rush ushered in by the likes of Dulal Hossain and Zamal Hossain Mollah nine years ago in Dhaka.