Thu, Jun 14, 2018 - Page 16 News List

World Cup rivalry turns violent in Bangladesh


Mohammad Rakib, a Bangladeshi fan of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, displays his Argentina jersey and hat on the outskirts of Dhaka on June 6.

Photo: AFP

The World Cup is arousing high passions in Bangladesh, where machete-wielding fans of Brazil and Argentina have clashed in the streets and flags of the two countries are so ubiquitous that some people want to ban them.

Ignoring the lack of any obvious link to the South American giants, and the absence of their national team — which is ranked 194th out of 211 teams — World Cup fever has firmly taken hold among Bangladeshi soccer fans.

Last week in the central town of Bandar, rival followers of Lionel Messi and Neymar fought with machetes, leaving a man and his son critically wounded, police said.

A 12-year-old boy died after being electrocuted while putting a Brazil flag on a roadside pole.

Argentina and Brazil flags have been dominating towns in the country of 160 million for weeks ahead of the start of the World Cup in Russia today.

Supporters of the two teams hold flag processions to show their loyalties. In the northern town of Madarganj, motorcycle rallies are staged by hundreds of rival supporters waving soccer banners.

“You can feel the tension and excitement all over town,” local police chief Mohammad Rafique said.

However, some people in the country want to end the fervor.

One lawyer tried to get a court order preventing the flying of flags of World Cup nations. Barisal University in southern Bangladesh has banned its 7,000 students from flying foreign nations’ colors on campus.

“The government should totally ban flying any foreign flags across Bangladesh,” university head S.M. Imamul Haq said.

Flag fervor is the most obvious sign of the country’s switch of allegiance every four years from cricket to soccer.

Even though Bangladesh has never qualified for the World Cup, and has little chance of doing so, the country goes crazy for the tournament every four years.

The South American rivalry has been traced back to broadcasts of the 1986 World Cup, when Diego Maradona’s brilliance helped Argentina win the trophy.

“Pele was a household name here. His story was in our textbook, so there was a traditional support base for Brazil. But Argentina stole Bangladeshis’ hearts after Maradona’s solo feats in 1986. I think it is when this rivalry here began,” sports portal editor M.M. Kaiser said.

Maqsud Elahi, 13, said after buying an Argentine flag: “I support Argentina because of Messi. His dribbling is mind-blowing.”

However, sociologists struggle to explain Bangladesh’s soccer phenomenon, with one criticizing it as “a kind of inferiority complex.”

“Many of these people don’t know where Brazil and Argentina are. There is no blood or language connection, still they are mad for them,” Dhaka University sociology professor Nehal Karim said. “I don’t understand it.”

Writer Ashif Entaz Rabi defended the quadrennial frenzy, saying that the World Cup is a joyous occasion for millions.

Rabi wrote in a widely shared Facebook comment: “If an Argentina fan finds happiness by flying an Argentine flag on his roof, who are you to stop him from this joy?”

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