Mushfiqur Rahim is now a household name for sports lovers as the cricket craze has reached every nook and corner of the country. Nabib Newaj Jibon is also not an unfamiliar name in the sports fraternity, especially in football circles as he is serving the national football team. Another well-known name is Khadija Tul Kubra as women's cricket gradually gains popularity, especially after the national team's Women's T20 Asia Cup success last year. Bangladesh Under-19 captain Towhid Hridoy is considered a good young prospect for the country's cricket. Ask each of the aforementioned athletes and they will proudly tell you that they all hail from Bogura. There are other athletes like Tima in kabaddi and Mariom Khatun in swimming who represent the district in the national level competitions. The district can feel proud of having produced a lot of quality athletes in the past.
Bogura's rich tradition of presenting the nation with gifted athletes may lead outsiders to draw a positive impression about sporting activities in the major business hub of Rajshahi Division. Unfortunately, however, the other side of Bogura's coin is a sordid one as local sports have gradually been dying there due to a lack of facilities and initiative from the concerned authorities.
A decade ago, a lot of events were held in the district around the year and competitions of different disciplines like badminton, volleyball, the traditional nauka baich (boat race), swimming were regularly organised by different clubs. However, those traditional clubs like UFC Club, Sabuj Sangha, Town Club, Muktijoddha Sangsad, Motor Sramiksangha, Acquire State Club, Agradut Club, Karatoa Badminton Club, Shahid Tareq Sangha have dwindled in stature to the point of near extinction. Any sport that is taking place there now is organised by the District Sports Association (DSA).
Local writer Bazlur Karim Bahar became nostalgic when he recalled the district's rich sporting culture, which has now all but vanished.
“In the 1960s and 70s, we saw Nauka Baich on Karatoa River, saw swimming competitions in the municipal park pond, big football tournaments at the Altafunnesa sports ground where players from Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan and Karachi took part. Those days are gone. There is no interest in sports among the guardians and there is no enthusiasm for sporting activities,” he said.
The lack of true sport lovers in an organisational capacity and lack of sports facilities in the district is considered the main factor behind the trend of decline.
There is no district stadium like other parts of the country and the only stadium here is the Shaheed Chandu Stadium, which is used exclusively for cricket, even though it was the district stadium before 2004.
As the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is the custodian of this venue, the game's governing body stages only their own events like the longer-version Bangladesh Cricket League (BCL) and the National Cricket League (NCL) and unfortunately this venue did not host any international matches since 2007.
Altafunnesa sports ground is the only place where any big sports event can take place but the condition of the venue is in dire straits and hardly fit for any quality sports event. There was an initiative from incumbent member of parliament Abdul Mannan from Bogura-1 to make a district stadium in 2008 but it is yet to get the government nod, but Mannan informed that he is trying to build the stadium so that all kinds of sports can be held.
On the other hand, the lone swimming pool, the Bogura District Swimming Pool, in the district has not been used for the last two years and it has not hosted any competitions since an age-group event in 2003.
“There is no pool filter, and without it the water has to be completely changed over two days, which consumes a huge amount of electricity. A few days ago a pending electricity bill of Tk 7 lakh had to be paid. Due to the unavailability of the pool filter the monthly cost comes to Tk 27,000 to Tk 30,000 and it's not possible for the DSA to bear the expenses. That was the reason that the functioning of this pool was stopped,” said Suvashis Poddar Liton, senior vice-president of the DSA and also the president of the district Jubo League.
He also said that the popular Bangabandhu Gold Cup Tournament, for which the players were hired from India, Nigeria and Brazil has been suspended for the last two years, but promised to restart it soon.
Former footballer Nurul Bashar Chandan, who played for Dhanmondi Club in 1991, said: “Even a decade ago there were tournaments like Sher-e-Bangla Cup and Shahid Suhrawardy Cup as well as many other football tournaments but all are now history. Bogura produced many famous players like Boro Kalu, Choto Kalu, Altabuddin Gela, Shimul, Bulbul but no one are showing interest to play football as everybody are focusing only on cricket.”
Gopal Tiwary, a former badminton player who participated in a lot of international events between 1989 and 1997, said: “There was huge interest in badminton among boys and girls in this district earlier and local clubs also arranged various badminton tournaments, but once cricket became the centre of all attraction all those things became a thing of the past.”
Former volleyball player Nurul Alam Tutul was also saddened by the decline of sports activities in the district. “The 90s was a golden era for volleyball in Bogura. Mamtaj Hossain Murad was captain of the Bangladesh volleyball team for a long time but, painfully, the game has lost all its lustre here.”
Maksudul Alam Bulbul, who had represented the Bangladesh national football team from 1994 to 2003 and played for Dhaka-based clubs like Abahani, Brothers Union and Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra, opined that since the formation of the DFA (District Football Association), the school-level competitions have declined and the lack of funding for the DFA is also hindering progress of the once most popular game in the country.
“In the last 12 years, only three first division football leagues were arranged here. We must stage the first division league regularly if we want to reprise past enthusiasm.”
Upon condition of anonymity, many related to the Bogura sporting scene opined that the politicisation of sport is also a reason for the decline in sporting activity as most of the posts at the DSA are held by leaders of the ruling party.
But Suvashis Poddar Liton denied this allegation. “We are organising all kinds of sports here. We arrange the Bangabandhu Gold Cup, the biggest football tournament, with our own funds. Besides, the DSA has been arranging club-based kabaddi, table tennis, badminton and T20 competitions at school and college levels.”