Why sport matters

Shakil Kasem

Conventional wisdom would have it that sport is an integral part of national life. A nation thrives on its sporting prowess to give itself not only a sense of identity in the international community of nations, but also create for its citizens a sense of oneness, in spirit and in health. A lifetime spent by yours truly, in understanding the nuances of bat hitting ball has given one an insight to how things have progressed in Bangladesh, as one's active life in profession and society shaped for better or worse.

Circa late sixties, when cricket was the preserve of the few, yet dominated by the many who spoke a different tongue but played the game with a passion and level of skill that took the collective breath away. Noticeable too was the fact that the protagonists to a man looked and acted and even more importantly, played the game as though they were born to be there; and they were too, for many a glorious winter. Oh, where were we then?

There was need for an identity of sorts. The Latifs, the Amirullahs, the Tahers, the Javed Masoods, the Ismail Guls and the Niaz Ahmeds ruled either with their Gunn & Moore bats or the fizzing leg cutters they could send down at will. Pitted against them at the time were the Mainuddin Mahmoods, the Bokuls, the Shamim Kabirs and the Shomu Alamgirs and Shafiqul Haq Heeras, followed soon by the Roquibuls and the Mainus and the Badshahs and the Yuousuf Rahmans, true sons of the soil who attempted to stand toe to toe and slug out in the unequal battles that were fought. A generation of battlers who were game and trying to the bitter end.

Not just in cricket, for who can forget the lightning runs and shooting skills of Kazi Salahuddin, he of the flowing mane and flashy lifestyle, our own home grown Georgie Best, who lit up our mundane prosaic lives with 90 minutes of magical football every weekend? Or before that, the looping lobs in to penalty box, and the in swinging corner kicks of Pratap Hazra? The intricate dribbling skills of Sadeq Bhai on the hockey turf, or the all round mastery of everything basketball, hockey, cricket and football had to offer, of Ibrahim (Gary) Saber? They were not just our heroes: they provided us not just the pride we needed to have at the time, they were our escape from reality.

A nation steeped in doom and gloom, and picking up the pieces of a devastated economy, sought to find momentary solace and comfort from the exploits of these individuals. Of all the activities in our national life, sport was the one single calling that spoke no language, other than that of wellness and unity. We were in a sense grateful to them. Theirs was a calling devoid of any prospects of riches or pots and pans at the end of the rainbow. These few gave their all to the many. It should have bred a sense of duty, of sacrifice we should have made to the rest of the country at large. In their own way they gave us a message, a message we chose not to heed.

It is not in our culture, or in our national ethos, to dig deeper into the realms of what is good for society and our nation as a whole. If it were so we could have found a few answers from sport itself. The playing fields of Eton had provided generations of future leaders for England. There is rationale for emphasis on sports at the school, college and university levels. This is a mechanism that breeds confidence in oneself, gives a sense of teamwork and instills leadership and man management skills at a formative stage of an individual's mental and physical development. Not to be ignored are the aspects of fair play and adherence to rules and regulations of each individual game that one intends to play. These are but qualities that should leave a mark in any activity or profession that we choose to pursue in the future. Sadly, this has not been the case in our country.

Sport at the end of the day is a two sided coin. There is a need to be engaged in it, as a player at any level, particularly for the youth. At another level, transcending all age barriers, it is something to be watched and enjoyed. Any game has its own vicarious thrill. To ride the roller coaster of emotions associated with a game means, we take that journey away from the depressions and horror of our day to day lives, from the everyday murder and mayhem to the unequal struggles we wage with our lives.

To offset the trauma induced by finding ourselves living in a city ranked almost last in the list of the worst cities of the world, being a citizen of a country branded several times over as one of the most corrupt on the face of this world, we look for straws to clutch as well swim towards the shores of some semblance of dignity. For good or worse, the most neutral non controversial, achievement that may turn the heads around of the international community in a favourable direction towards us, have been the sporadic achievements of our youth in the arena of international sport. A corrupt politician or a bureaucrat ranks far below in the totem pole in public estimation than a Shakib Al Hasan who is ranked the leading all rounder in the world of cricket. Given a choice the nation's TV audience would much rather watch Tamim Iqbal's exploits than read the depressing scrolls on the stock market each day.

Getting older also implies getting sadder, and in extreme cases wiser too. Paradoxes, paradoxes. This is when the voice of reason taps on the shoulder of experience. Time now to either pass the buck or the baton to the youth of the day. Inevitably, there is a time when change is the order of the day. The old guard dissipates. Time to move ahead riding shotgun on the youthful energy and vigour of future generations, who are hopefully prepared for the challenge. For someone pushing sixty, it seems the only bittersweet way to end this article.

Shakil Kasem is a former cricketer