Televised Football and Nationalism
Dr. A J M Shafiul Alam Bhuiya, Professor and Founder Chair of the Department of Television, Film and Photography at Dhaka University : We all have been under the spell of football, which the Americans call soccer, for the last three weeks. The dazzling displays of football techniques and tactics have mesmerized and absorbed us.
We Bangladeshis are so passionate about the game that we created little enclaves of Brazil, Argentina, and Germany by hoisting their national flags and wearing their football teams’ jersey. Our love for Brazil and Argentina football teams has this time been noticed by thenews media in Brazil and Argentina.
A team of TV Globo, the largest television network in Brazil, came to Bangladesh to shoot stories about the crazy Bangladeshi fans of Brazilian football. A group of football fans in Argentina has initiated a petition to submit to the Argentine Football Federation to organize a friendly match between the Argentine and Bangladeshi football team in appreciation of the Bangladeshi fans of the Argentine football. However,critics have invoked questions about our fractured nationalism and national allegiance. It will certainly be hard to find a second country where people would hoist the national flags of other countriesen masse. A national flag is a symbol of a nation and the citizens of the nation-state reinforce their national identity by expressing allegiance to that symbol. Why did Bangladeshi football fans hoist the flags of other countries? Are they expressing allegiance to that particular countries?
Perhaps, we have been carried away by the power of television. The global television has made football a global spectacle by delivering the football matches to people’s living rooms. Without live television coverage, the football extravaganza would stay away from most people. Camera movements, replays, graphic presentations, and live commentaries of the wins and losses of the great football playing nations engage millions of people across the world. Star performers with their on and off the field activities garner support for their teams. Bangladeshi football fans are not out of this frenzy. They also want to be part of the global football fraternity. Because of the absence of theBangladeshi football team at the world cup, Bangladeshi football fans have identified them with other teams. Pele’s tantalizing playing skills along with Brazil’s success at the world stage and Maradona’s on and off the field gimmicks have garnered huge supports from Bangladeshi fans for Brazil and Argentina respectively.
We are also yet to become a nation-state. Benedict Anderson, in his seminal book titled Imagined Communities, argues that the nation is an imagined community. It is a result of collective imagination which is constructed over time through thecollective practices of common rituals and adherence to common symbols. We the East Bengalis through our political and cultural struggles from 1948 through 1971 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman conjured up the image of a nation-state which would cherishBengali nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism as state principles. The assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975 in a military coup obliterated this image.The military dictators ventured into creating a new nation-state by replacing Bengali nationalism with Bangladeshi nationalism, secularism with Islamism, and socialism with capitalism. After returning to power, the Awami League has been facing an insurmountable challenge to bring back the Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh. The AL has to compromisewith the Islamists and negotiate with the market forces to stay in power.
The citizens are also ambivalent about their national identities and are in constant search for their identities. They are in the state of introspection. They ask who they are as a nation and how they would define themselves: As Bangladeshis or Bengalis? AsIslamists or secularists?
Postmodernity is a time of ambivalence where identities are fractured and hybrid. Global flows of goods, services, and television images contribute to the creation and promotion of hybridity and multiple identities. Televised sports have created global sports communities which transcend national borders. In this globalizing tendencies and the era of televised sports, the nation-states can curve up some space for themselves by sending their teams to the global competitions.
Some commentators have sarcastically noted that Bangladeshi football is a light year away from the world stage. Our football bosses have to realize this and chalk out plans and implement that to reduce this distance. They traverse the globe for attending FIFA and AFC meetings but do not apply FIFA and AFC guidelines for uplifting the national teams. Players need to be groomed up to play at the world stage, but unfortunately, neither the Football Federation nor the clubs are doing this.