Those who are aware of the local hockey scene are quite familiar with the gung-ho approach taken by the players and administrators on and off the pitch on a regular basis. So, it came as bit of a surprise when the April 29 elections of the Bangladesh Hockey Federation (BHF) were completed peacefully and the transition of power took place without an incident, especially after a considerable war of words and arm-twisting ahead of the polls.
The elections were long-awaited, coming some 21 months after the previous committee had ran its course and 16 months since an ad-hoc committee had taken over charge following months of bitter wrangling between two forces. So, it was a welcome scene when the outgoing general secretary Abdus Sadeque, a legendary hockey player and a man known for his charming personality and well-maintained connections, heartily congratulated the newly-elected general secretary Mominul Haque Shaeed, a young and energetic political-activist-turned-sports-organiser. It was also a relief to hear both panels speaking of ‘working together for the betterment of hockey’ as the new office bearers took charge.
So far so good for the federation; so far so good for Mr. Shaeed, who came to power backed by popular support of the clubs and with the promise of fulfilling a lofty manifesto. But it is needless to say that there are enormous challenges that lie ahead for the new committee; the hardest of which may come in the form of non-cooperation from the opposing panel, no matter how much camaraderie is reflected in their words at the moment.
While the Shaeed-led panel won the most important position, the opposing panel outnumbered the winning panel in number of posts, leading to what could be a very mixed executive committee, or in other words, a consensus committee. And there is reason to doubt that the two opposing panels will so easily put aside their long-held rivalry, which had previously set our hockey back time and again.
The rivalries aside, challenges may also come in the form of meeting the lofty promises made in the manifesto by the Shaeed-led panel, with the most ambitious one of taking Bangladesh to the World Cup for the first time in 2026.
Qualification for the World Cup in seven years’ time seems like a far-fetched idea at this stage. The reason is simple: The top teams of each continent plus the semifinalists of Hockey World League – 16 teams in total unless the format is changed – will play the World Cup in 2026. Bangladesh is currently ranked 34th in world hockey and they have been languishing below 30 for over a decade now. And the best effort of the team in the Hockey World League was a 19th-place finish during the inaugural edition in 2013, and all three times they failed to move past the second round.
Getting the World Cup thing out of the way, the Shaeed-led panel would do well if it can fulfil the other promises, such as setting up two Astroturfs in two divisional venues, forming five commissions or units to run the federation’s activities from grassroots to national level smoothly, starting indoor hockey.
However, the most important challenge for the new committee would be to hold the Premier League, First Division and Second Division regularly so that a regular stream of players is found for the national team. Unfortunately, the top leagues have become increasingly irregular in recent times, mostly due to fractions in the hockey fraternity.
We all know, Bangladesh had a culture of hockey even before independence as the game was played in and around the old town of Dhaka. The popularity of the game reached an all-time high, only rivalled by football in those days, after the second Asia Cup was held in Dhaka in 1985. The game spread out from Old Dhaka to the new town and across other district towns. The matches between Abahani, Mohammedan, USha, Mariners, etc started to draw thousands of spectators to the stadium. Even some of the world’s best players from South Asia and beyond started to appear in the First Division League, which was the top-tier of hockey at that time. However, due to continuous infighting between clubs and federation officials, the game’s organisers failed to tap in on its promise, resulting in a steep fall in its popularity since the turn of the century. Things have reached such a pitiful state at present that the production of players is now only confined to within BKSP.
From 1974 to 1997, the top league, which was then called the First Division, was held 19 times, but since the introduction of the premier league, the top league has been held only 12 times in 21 years. The First Division, which became the second tier with the introduction of the Premier League, was only held 11 times in this period while the Second Division was only held 12 times between 1974 and 2016.
The irregularity of the top league has had a debilitating impact on the hockey players and the hockey scene overall as main source of income for the top-level players are these leagues. The national team players may sustain livelihood due to having jobs with services teams, but there is no such opportunity for most hockey players who cannot come into reckoning for the national team. As a result many budding hockey players, and in cases established ones too, are hanging up their sticks in search of a better livelihood.
We must remember that hockey is not a money-spinning sport. Despite being an Olympic sport and being played all over the world, this sport does not lure the financial riches through marketing and television rights. And unlike football and cricket, the national federations do not get any funding or revenue share from the game’s world governing body, FIH.
Hence the sport is mostly sustained by corporate sponsorship, and sponsors will only be attracted when there is a healthy environment, a following among mass, and a promise of doing well at international level. So the onus is on the newly elected committee at the BHF to make a fresh start, forgetting the old divisions and club allegiances and plan things in a way so that money is flown into hockey and the hockey players can make a decent life out of playing it.