Mahfuz Anam Chronicle: Our Team at the T20 World Cup – A Metaphor for Current Bangladesh Politics

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Empty voting center at Purbobhag Model Govt Primary School, Dakshin Surma upazila. Photo: Star

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Empty voting center at Purbobhag Model Govt Primary School, Dakshin Surma upazila. Photo: Star

At the very beginning, I say as vehemently as I am capable that a game is a game is a game. Every tournament should be a competition of the exceptional and the best athlete should win, and we would all celebrate their excellence. It is primarily aimed at players who, through a life of passion and commitment, training and sacrifice on a personal level, would strive to achieve their dream of being the best in their favorite sport. In the process, we attend sporting events of impressive quality.

But as nationalism took hold, the sport turned into a weapon to bring “pride” to the nation and the players themselves let themselves be swayed, as they enjoyed the national adulation that resulted from it. It reached its tragic climax during the Superpower Rivalry, which was a fight not only between two countries – which is bad enough for sport as it is – but also between two ideologies. At the height of the Cold War, in addition to the sporting victories of the Soviet Union, the successes of the communist countries of Eastern Europe were all proclaimed as the success of the socialist system, as well as its ideological and related regimentation.

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Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad (left) screams in frustration after his three-point loss to the West Indies in the T20 World Cup. Photo: AFP

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Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad (left) screams in frustration after his three-point loss to the West Indies in the T20 World Cup. Photo: AFP

The ideological push may be gone, but sport as part of building a nationalist image is alive and well and more powerful and, at the same time, harmful as it is fueled by potentially lethal doses of ” hate steroids ”through the presence of social networks. The “public” treatment of Indian player Mohammed Shami and Bangladeshi drummer Liton Das and the abuse they had to endure for their performance goes far beyond nationalism and ideology. Racism has been the old malaise of sport. Now, a new and more insidious has been added: the misinterpreted religion, whose heinous abuse, which the Indian subcontinent has suffered for decades, if not centuries, has returned with all its perversity. It’s so sad for the sport, for the fans, for the spectators, and devastating for the players.

However, the malaise in the sport and the religion-based attacks on our players – very important topics in themselves – are not the focus of my column today. Bangladesh at the T20 World Cup is a metaphor for our current politics.

Instead of strengthening the ability of our players to win matches under any conditions, we are manipulating the pitch. Instead of gaining voter support through public service, we are tampering with elections. Instead of telling the truth about what actual level (s) our players are at, we are creating a false narrative by “winning” against Australia and New Zealand, and thus giving them a false sense of trust that shatters as we face the rigors of the international standard. Instead of preparing our own parties to face the reality of public opinion, we stop the expression of public opinion itself, with intimidation, violence and unjust laws.

Everyone knew – at least reporters knew and they kept talking about it – the madness of getting our players through preseason games on low bounce, spin support and generally slow pitches. It was in direct contrast to the fast and hard pitches of the host countries where the World Cup is being played. However, we opted for such a pitch only to be able to say that we beat Australia and New Zealand. These results, our cricket board leaders thought, would give our players such a boost in confidence and boost their morale so much that we would have a great performance ahead of us.

The only problem was that it was based on a lie. The results were artificial. The so-called well-planned preparation was in fact a well-planned disaster. It brought us shame instead of pride, it destroyed any confidence that sports fanatic and team-loving Bangladeshi fans had in our squad. Worse yet, it broke the backbone of the confidence a player needs to face their very first ball in front of a huge crowd and a much bigger TV audience.

Our team’s performance in the last T20 World Cup is such a vivid metaphor for our politics that no one but sycophants will miss it. Over the past 30 years – except for two, although much of those two years have been spent preparing for the 2008 elections, which brought the current party to power with an overwhelming majority. – we practice democracy. But what do we have to show for this?

Over the years, our elections have become more and more artificial. They have shifted from the hands of voters to that of election officials, police, intelligence, bureaucracy and local henchmen.

The Election Commission, such a prestigious body in most democracies – Trump would triumph repeatedly under such a body like ours – has been laughed at by itself. No public disillusionment has had the slightest impact on our electoral authorities to push them to inquire about the quality of the elections they are organizing. Is the election just a massive logistics enterprise? What about the public’s trust in them? Shouldn’t they have done a survey to find out what voters think of their performance? If they did, we would be happy to know the outcome. The fact that electoral disputes take years to resolve and sometimes even exceed the duration of contested elections has never prompted them to reform.

There is nothing in our system called voter education. This is something the Election Commission should undertake throughout the year, teaching people their rights and, not to mention, their obligations in a democracy.

Right now the local elections are taking place and what we are seeing is violence and corruption. Have we heard of the empowerment of local government bodies, the decentralization of power in Dhaka, the loosening of a certain stifling bureaucratic grip on local bodies? There has been virtually no devolution of power in the true sense of the word. All local authorities – union parishad, upazila parishad, zilla parishad – are made up of elected representatives of the people. But they all work under the supervision of the local government division of the relevant ministry which has the power to fire them. A case of bureaucrats having the final say over the elected representatives of the people.

A fundamental institution of democracy is parliament. Our people have the dubious honor of not having discussed any important issue of the country. If the Covid pandemic and climate catastrophe could not have been considered by our parliament as worthy of special sessions or even mere debates, then what moved their hearts and minds is a question far beyond my ability to to respond.

Likewise, in our preparation for the T20 World Cup, we set our ground so that the away teams cannot play, train our bowlers according to the pitch and win matches and declare that we are ready for the world, and let’s lose the very first game against a team we should have beaten. Did the team play badly? Yes, but they were a disabled team at the start, crippled by those who forced them into poor preparation, false hopes and an imaginary journey that was never there.

Likewise, in our democratic journey, we organize elections in which the truth deeper than what the results reveal is known to all. Because the truth is also known to those who wear the garlands of “victory”, they lack the confidence to speak the truth, and because they do not speak the truth, an imaginary world of victory and self-righteousness is created. which leads to more pretense and more self-righteousness, and so the cycle of evil continues to spiral downward.

I am told that all the teams tamper with the home courts a bit. So what if we overdo it? Well, we know what’s going on when we do it. Will the lessons of cricket have a good influence on our politics? In cricket, there are international matches that tell us that we are on the wrong track. In politics, the only self-correction mechanism is elections. If we removed it by anything but name, then that prospect of correction is non-existent for us.

Mahfuz Anam is the editor and publisher of The Daily Star.


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