'I am a technician, not a magician'
On April 30, 2011 Kazi Salahuddin completed his third year in a four-year term as president of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF). The legendary ex-striker for the national team had taken over in a blaze of glory, promising to 'take football from the tables to the ground and keep it rolling around the year.' Despite some visible improvements, the jury, however, is still out on his impact in moulding 'the beautiful game' in a country where it lags behind its more popular counterpart in cricket. But on the event of his third year anniversary, The Daily Star's Anisur Rahman and Quazi Zulquarnain Islam caught up with the president to discuss the last three years and what the future holds.
The Daily Star (DS): First of all, congratulations on completing three full years as BFF president. You will agree that these are exciting times for football?
Kazi Salahuddin (KS): Yes, indeed. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will complete the signing of the contract to bring Argentina and Nigeria to Dhaka to play an international friendly. It will be a tri-partite deal between the BFF, the Celebrity Management Group (CMG) and Beximco.
DS: Do you feel that bringing Argentina here represents a major coup for the BFF?
KS: I would like to think so. An international match of this magnitude in the country will definitely help pique the interest for the game amongst sports fans. As I said, that is the number one intention. Also, as per the terms of our deal with Beximco, any profit they make from this venture will be ploughed back into BFF for football development, and any losses will be covered by them. I feel that it is as good a deal as any I have struck so far and kudos to Beximco for that as well
DS: …it is interesting. On face value this looks like a great deal considering the difficulties the BFF have faced with sponsors so far.
KS: (sighs) you are right, finding sponsors have been our and personally my biggest challenge so far. People are screaming about so many things that have not been done and have not been completed. Every day I see people on talk shows giving me theoretical suggestions on how to do what. I tell you that I know how football works. I have a vision but the challenge is getting someone else on board with resources to fund that vision. That is the hardest task and no one has been able to give me a solution to that problem. But hopefully things will be brighter from now on.
DS: … with the Grameenphone deal in the offing?
KS: Yes, we have almost ironed out all the details regarding that deal. We should be signing it soon enough. Also we now have Beximco on board as well. I feel that with such dedicated sponsors we can bring football forward and, to pre-empt a question I know you will ask, target grassroots development.
DS: So you agree that grassroots development has not been executed as well as you would have liked? The DFA's for example are not yet active and the Pioneer League has just taken place once in your three years…
KS: …but it has taken place, no? The key here is to understand that everything is tied into money. I would like to do so many things, but finding the sponsors to fund that has been difficult. About the DFA's, it is true that we have not mobilized them effectively but sometimes you need to look at them too and say that they could do more. I have consistently funded the DFA's and I have doubly rewarded associations who have organised tournaments in their own endeavour. With the Pioneer League, it has happened once and I am confident that we can continue it in the future. The same with the National School Championships. We have completed the Dhaka Metropolitan zone and now we will roll it out to the country.
DS: And there are questions too about the Sylhet academy, which despite permission from the government has not yet been made active…
KS: True, but there are a number of things there that need to be worked out. Some infrastructural and technical issues. It should be up and running by September.
DS: So would you say your work in strengthening structure has not been completely satisfactory?
KS: I see half a glass of water. So is the glass half-full or half-empty? You tell me? Personally, I think it is half-full and that is the way I have always looked at things.
DS: One thing that has happened in your tenure is that the Bangladesh League and Federation Cup have been held regularly. Would you define that as success?
KS: Absolutely. We have regularised football and made it year-round. Players are now earning more money and clubs are being rewarded like never before. I personally made sure that clubs get appearance money for tournaments as well as gate money from their 'home' matches in the Bangladesh League. This is an unprecedented step in Bangladesh football and I think it should incentivise the clubs to move forward, because we do feel that a club structure is necessary to make progress.
DS: What about the Super Cup. It stopped after that money-spinning first edition.
KS: Where did it stop? [DS: …it hasn't happened after the first edition?] KS: That is due to the fact that the sponsors backed out initially. I still brokered another deal but then we had issues with the Bangabandhu stadium. No sponsor was interested to host the tournament at Kamalapur and also there was very little interest from clubs as well. But the second edition is just around the corner. The latest will be June.
DS: That aside, there is still a problem with structure related to the league. What happens to clubs like Beanibazar who get relegated? They fall into a vacuum.
KS: True, but plans are underway to get an 8 team second tier league going. We will have teams like Beanibazar and Shukhtara playing in that league along with the First Division Champions, and the Under 18 team we are in the process of creating. I have also sent out invitations for a few more clubs to come forward to participate.
DS: So would you personally define your time as BFF supremo a success?
KS: (laughs)… is that not for you to decide? Give me a rating and I will accept it. Personally though I am a greedy person; greedy for success. I am my biggest critic. I have been like this ever since I played football, when even if I had scored a hattrick, I felt I could have done more. It is the same here. Things have been done, many positive things. But wholesale change needs more time and dedicated sponsors. As I have said, I am a technician, not a magician.
DS: …and do you feel you have had adequate support in your endeavours from your committees?
KS: I will just say that in many regards, the coordination between committees could have been much better.
DS: What does the future hold for Kazi Salahuddin?
KS: I will definitely run for another term for president. Provided the voters want me, I will try to come in and complete the reforms that I have started. At this stage, I feel like we have laid the groundwork to show young people that football is a viable career alternative. There is more money in the game than ever before as well. Now comes the sweeping changes in the grassroots. I feel that I can give football a platform from where it can pick itself up and move forward
We need someone like him in BCB, someone who actually cares.
"I was the happiest man in the world, happier than Bill Gates"- Tamim Iqbal