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Old January 12, 2003, 01:28 PM
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Problems for Bangladesh are not all on the field
Ralph Dellor - 12 January 2003

With all the attention of politicians currently centred on Zimbabwe and the ICC poised to examine security aspects of staging World Cup matches there and in Kenya, another serious instance of politics interfering with cricket has come to light. The headlines might have been focused on the unacceptable aspects of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, but the situation in Bangladesh is, it seems, little better.

President Robert Mugabe was at least invited to become patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Reports from Bangladesh suggest that the ruling coalition has overthrown the elected directors of the Bangladesh Cricket Board and installed their own cronies to run cricket in the country.

The parallel changes in government and cricket administration are nothing new, especially in parts of Asia, but the system appears to have been taken to excess in Bangladesh. Ali Asghar is a member of parliament belonging to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. He was nominated to the post of president of the BCB after the general elections in late 2001.

Although he is the president, the Board itself is dominated by Arafat Rahman, who is the younger of the two sons of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. It is alleged that Koko, as Arafat Rahman is known, and his friends are instrumental in decision-making and running the Board. Ali Asghar apparently acts as a front man and seldom goes against the wishes of Koko, as he owes his political entity to the Prime Minister. It is also thought that he is involved in some significant business deals conducted on behalf of the Prime Minister's two sons.

Out of a board of 25 elected directors, it appears that only four are allowed to operate effectively. Apart from Arafat Rahman, there is a further member of parliament, the son of another and the brother of yet another. The other elected members are all forced to assume a passive role in the knowledge that those who have spoken out against this government intervention have either been threatened with repercussions or have actually become the victims of violence.

Even so, three have gone to the courts in an attempt to restore democratic principles to Bangladeshi cricket, and have been punished for doing so. Further threats hang over them should they not withdraw their petition from the courts.

Such threats should not be taken lightly in Bangladesh. There are reports of government-controlled terror tactics being unleashed on the opposition parties and free thinkers almost every day. Thousands have been arrested, among them university professors, journalists and intellectuals. A Reuters journalist and two other foreign journalists a Briton and an Italian on assignment from Channel 4 - were jailed for allegedly "plotting against Bangladesh"

Some 45 people have died at the hands of the army in the last three months, with the widely-held belief that they were victims of torture and other unexplained treatment. The government states that they all died of heart attacks.

Among those currently being detained is the former president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board and a government minister himself in the previous administration, Saber Hossain Chowdhury. He has been detained twice in three months and is currently facing charges of treason for "lowering the image of Bangladesh in the world."

Saber Chowdhury was largely instrumental in the campaign that resulted in the elevation of Bangladesh to Test status. He was a national hero at the time among the cricket-loving Bangladeshis, but his political activities have been used by the present government to erode that support.

His "crime" was to research and publish allegations that extremist and fundamentalist Islamic militant groups are operating in Bangladesh and that they have close links with the present government. He was also accused of masterminding a series of terrorist outrages himself as a result of a telephone call with the arrested Reuters man.

Quite obviously there are forces at large in Bangladesh that might not be acceptable to many observers, but whatever internal politics are involved is not the concern of the cricket community. The interference with the Bangladesh Cricket Board is.

When similar tactics were applied to the Bangladesh Football Federation, FIFA stepped in and stripped Bangladesh of its membership with an ultimatum that the elected federation be reinstated or face a ban from international as well as club football. The government was humiliated and forced to return the administration of the BFF to the elected body.

The same is not happening with cricket. The ICC has not yet taken similar steps and is unlikely to unless there is a formal complaint from those who feel there has been injustice. The policy is to accept any notified changes to a country's board until such time as any alleged wrongdoing is brought to their attention, at which time there could be an ICC investigation.

That allegation will come from a member of the Bangladesh Board, Mubasshar Hussain. Currently in England recovering from heart surgery, he says that he does not want to initiate any process now in case such action distracts the players in the national team. However, this former freedom fighter during the liberation war that resulted in independence from Pakistan will lodge that formal complaint once the World Cup campaign comes to an end.

The situation for Saber Chowdhury is not as simple. Amnesty International has expressed anxiety at the way political prisoners like him are being held in Bangladesh. A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said, "We are concerned about reports from Bangladesh and we have made the point to the authorities there through our High Commission in Dhaka that we expect all detainees to be held according to international norms."

There are plenty of examples in the world of injustice and the suspension of human and democratic rights. That does not make them acceptable to civilised society but they have to be accepted, however reluctantly. Nevertheless, cricket in Bangladesh has enough problems in coming to terms with its status as a Test nation. It would stand a better chance of succeeding on the field if problems off it were resolved.


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