A Nation Awaits
NADER RAHMAN highlights what Bangladesh can learn from
South Africa with the cricket World Cup in sight
Watching the World Cup in South Africa was a once in a lifetime experience which taught me that you don't need to be the best team in the tournament to put on a grand show or have a great time.
With the cricket World Cup just over six months away, that concept should become Bangladesh's ethos, not just for the tournament but in how we think of our country afterwards as well.
Nay-sayers doubted that it could be done; the continent was not ready and neither was South Africa. That negative energy fueled the South African cause and brought the nation together much like Nelson Mandela's historic election in 1994.
The international media soon turned on South Africa as well. They highlighted its crime rates. They rather questionably linked the unpopular Thabo Mbeki regime and the fight for ANC leadership to the delays in constructing stadiums and finalising infrastructure.
South Africa realised that the only way it could prove the world wrong was to unite behind the World Cup, and that is exactly what it did. It started with small things, asking people to put up the national flag wherever they could. Asking them to purchase the colours of national football team and wear them when they played a game.
The idea was not to breed rabid nationalists, but to create a sense of nationhood, which could be used collectively to build towards the World Cup.
It succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams as everyone started to feel a sense of duty towards the country and its ambitions and did their little bit to help out.
South Africa suffers from many of the same problems as Bangladesh. There is a lack of faith in the government, public works are a shambles and people wonder where their tax money goes. We have chronic poverty and they have serious crime, yet when push came to shove they accepted their structural problems and chose to overcome them together.
Did they solve the issues? No, but what they did prove to themselves and to the world was that there was a way to work around them and for progress to be made.
It's easy to sit back and complain about the government, both here and in South Africa, but when people come together for the same national goal, they often find a way to transcend structural problems and get down to work.
The December 2008 elections were the closest we have been to that feeling in a long time, but if the cricket World Cup is planned properly, it could really give Bangladesh the boost it needs.
Nationalistic feelings have so far only been used for political purposes in Bangladesh; it's about time those feelings were harnessed to put up a great show in 2011.
The advantages of successfully hosting the World Cup are manifold; the boost to the economy is the obvious one, but if the nation gets behind the team and the preparations for the tournament, the spillover feeling of national accomplishment will be worth more than a percentage point increase in our GDP.
The lessons to learn from South Africa also extend to the playing field. In the end the host nation didn't qualify for the second round, but were treated as national heroes for their efforts. Their spirit was hailed, if not the results, and country basked in the glory of their endeavours.
We should learn to take a page out of that book when our team lines up against the best in the world. We may not qualify for the second round, but if the efforts is put in and if we fight hard enough at least we'll be able to say we were beaten by a better team and lost with dignity. There should be no effigy burning, or endless editorials about toothless tigers -- it's time to take pride in our performances whether we win or lose.
Every football World Cup tries to leave behind a legacy project, something that'll remain well after the football is gone. In South Africa that project is a high-speed train network that'll eventually link the whole country.
But in reality the legacy project was the national feeling of togetherness that the World Cup created, the feeling that the people owned the country and they alone could take it forward.
In our national psyche we must replace "blame" with "build" -- and that could be our legacy project.
Nader Rahman is Assistant Editor, Forum.