Sportsmen and athletes in general inspire us. They inspire us to chase our dreams. Successful sportsmen are regarded as icons, and often mass audiences take pride in them. We, the Bangladeshis, are very passionate when it comes to sports. It's evident in how emotionally invested we are in the performance of our national cricket team.
That emotion inspires many to take sports as a profession too. But very few are able to pursue their dreams. We only see the national level cricketers or footballers enjoying privileges, not the struggle in their journey.
How hard actually is it for a kid growing up, especially in Dhaka, to pursue a career in sports while maintaining his/her studies?
Ayman Zarraf, a student from BSNM public college in Dhaka, dreams of being the next Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh cricket. He practices cricket in an academy near Dhanmondi. Though his mother Jenifer Rahman completely supports his passion, she is a bit worried about things that are not in good shape.
“I have no issue with Ayan practicing cricket as long as he doesn’t slack in his studies,” said Mrs Jenifer.
“It would be better if there were an arrangement for practicing sports in school. The cricket academy is a bit far away from our home. So, it takes a lot of time going there.”
Her concern resonates with many mothers who want to see their children excelling in sports with the assistance of a good sports academy. A training ground, too far from home, eats up a big portion of time just in travelling. This creates pressure, especially on school and college goers, who struggle in between academics and sports practice.
There are around 300 academies in Dhaka and about 200 outside the capital. Although the number isn’t remotely close compared to cricket, there are quite a few academies for football as well. Kalabagan Cricket Academy, Abahani Krira Chakra and Dhanmondi Football Academy are some of the reputed ones for these two games. Most of the academies charge between Tk 2000 and Tk 3000 for admission fee and around Tk 1000 as monthly fee. These academies play a major part in nourishing young talents.
Clearly the number of academies is not encouraging. Also, many families simply can’t take the burden of extra fees along with that of studies. The best solution for this would be strong sports grooming from school/college level. But can we rely on them?
Abdullah Al Mamun is the physical education teacher of Aga Khan School. According to him, the curriculum in most schools and colleges either do not encourage students to participate in sports or they do not have the requisite facilities. More so, the schools don’t even have a proper physical education teacher to assist the students in sports.
“The physical education teachers don’t have the required knowledge to coach students for specialised sports. BKSP has a programme for training teachers, but it is not enough at all. Lack of open fields is also an issue.”
Unfortunately, the scenario is even worse for other sports. Unlike cricket and football, there are not many scopes for students to learn other sports, let alone take them as a profession. The best option is BKSP (Bangladesh Sports Education Institute,) which provides specialised sports training alongside general education. The institute admits students for as many as 19 sports including cricket, football, volleyball, athletics, shooting, etc.
Players like Shakib al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Masud Rana and Mamunul Islam are the products of BKSP. Moreover, shooter Asif Hossaina and Abdullah Hel Baki have also come out of BKSP. The applicants have to go through a rigorous admission process for a limited number of seats, which largely limits youths from taking sports as a profession. Then what’s the pathway to be a sportsman if one can’t make it to BKSP? The good news is there are a lot of players who have had successful careers without enrolling in BKSP.
One such inspiring story is of Foyaez Ahmed Polash, who is currently playing for Bashundhara Kings FC. He recently completed BBA from Independent University.
“My journey to professional football is different from most people. I didn’t go through the process most professional players do. I used to play inter university football. The way I play football attracted the club scouts and they offered me to join them.”
Whatever height Foyaez has so far achieved, he has done it through sheer determination and discipline, and he recommends this for other aspiring youths as well.
“Discipline is very important. You have to take care of your body and stay fit. It's not easy to be in professional football while continuing studies. You must be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices.”
The former head of digital and social media for Bangladesh national cricket team’s official social media platform and the CEO of Daily Cricket, Mr Rabiul Alam, has been following Bangladesh’s cricket for a long time now. From his personal experience with the country’s cricketing arena, he shared his observation on becoming a professional cricketer without going to BKSP.
“You don’t necessarily have to go to BKSP to be a professional cricketer. BCB has a very good age level game development section. The best way to start would be school cricket.”
After certain progress, he recommends, one can try out for his/her district or divisional age level selection process.
“If you get selected, you will go through the national selection process and then you can work your way up.
“Even if you don’t, you can get in touch with your coach/cricket academies and work your way up through various age and tier cricket, such as the third/second/first division cricket. By this time, you should know that if you are good enough and serious enough to take it professionally. Then comes the Premier league and national stage.”
However, the same cannot be said about other sports, especially athletics. Apart from cricket and football, those who are interested in any other sports do not have many options other than BKSP. This ruins many dreamers’ tender dreams to be athletic, basketball or tennis players due to not having financial solvency to carry academy expenses.
In that case, the real solution could be the reformation of school and college level sports facilitating students to effectively nourish their talent so that they might get opportunity in age level sports by the time they reach universities.
The writer studies economics at Dhaka University. [email protected]