It's pelting down. Had it been a cricket match, the play would've been stopped already. A player is running with an oval-shaped ball. The match has gone right down to the wire. His team needs to score five points more to topple the opposition. He runs through the puddle with his whole strength.
The player falls to the ground before reaching the goal line. But the momentum carries him so that the ball touches the in-goal. He is immediately mobbed by his teammates. He has scored a try and clinched five points, winning the encounter for his team.
Not quite a scene people of Bangladesh are familiar with. With cricket and football enjoying all the spotlight, people barely have time to watch a sport like rugby. It may be even unknown to many that the sport is played in this country and has a governing body.
Rugby is not a celebrated sport in Bangladesh by any means. But it's quite a prominent one in the world, with more than six million people playing it and about two and a half million registered players. So what's the state of the sport in Bangladesh right now? Let's find out.
Well, it can be said that it's still a minor sport in Bangladesh, but surely one of the fastest-growing ones. The history of rugby in Bangladesh is discontinuous. It was a particularly popular sport in undivided Bengal in the pre-independence days. But it had little to no presence in the country after independence.
Finally, after years of dormancy, some rugby trainers from Japan started a youth programme that included few schools in Dhaka in 2007. That was the time when Bangladesh Rugby Federation Union (BRFU) was founded.
Bangladesh, however, are yet to become a member of World Rugby. But the team is now a full member of Asia Rugby and has found a considerable amount of success.
Bangladesh's greatest achievement till date in rugby is becoming the champions of the Bowl Group in Asia Rugby sevens, a variant of rugby union with teams having seven players instead of the usual 15.
Nazmus Sakib, who plays for the Bangladesh national rugby team, feels that there is talent in abundance and proper training and guidance is what they need. "The federation with the help of Rugby Asia brings international trainers twice a year to train the players. But it's important to have international trainers on a longer-term in order to bring the best out of these talented players," he said.
Sakib reckons that the federation is extremely sincere when it comes to promoting sports and sportsmen. He was full of praise for the governing body: "The federation is really helpful to the players. It bears all the expenses of the players - from buying the uniform to paying for the fare. The federation even helps the players financially as well."
About 12-14 tournaments are hosted by the federation throughout the year where top clubs like Mohammedan, Brothers Union, Dhaka Wanderers Club, Mariners Club and armed forces teams like Bangladesh Army and ANSAR participate.
Sakib, who is also working as a development manager of rugby believes that the sport is growing really fast in Bangladesh.
"The clubs are spending a lot of money. The Federation has been working on spreading it out for 13-14 years. Clubs are being formed in as many as 33 districts in the country. The civilian players who play the sport well are being offered jobs by the Army and Ansar. There is enough space where we can practice- at the St. Gregory School field, Paltan Maidan outer stadium, Kamalapur Stadium and fields of several schools and colleges. So we are on the right track."
Bangladesh participated in 'Get Into Rugby', a branding project and emerged 6th out of 32 teams last year. They have already beaten established teams like Syria, Indonesia and Brunei. "We have beaten some of the giants. Our team has players from the Army who are physically strong, fit and skilful. I feel we can fight big teams if trained by experienced coaches or trainers," remarked Sakib.
However, the mindset of the emerging players can be a setback for the sport, says Mahfizul Islam, chief executive officer of Bangladesh Rugby Federation Union.
"Rugby is a physical game where the players come in bodily contact with each other. So apparently it looks like rugby is a dangerous game. But to be honest, it is not and remarkably the number of injuries are less than that of football here," he said.
Mahfizul Islam informed that the sport is moving towards becoming a full-fledged professional sport and the federation have not yet faced any financial difficulty while organising a tournament.
"We try to organise the tournaments with the money we get from our sponsors. If there is any deficiency, we try to cover it from the funds we get from the National Sports Council and Rugby Asia. Now a lot of clubs and two armed forces teams are part of the sport. They are roping in capable players. Thus the players are being financially benefited and the sport is moving towards becoming a professional one."
Bangladesh Rugby Federation Union is prioritising age-level tournaments and putting emphasis, especially on women's rugby. "We are organising a lot of under-16, under-18 tournaments as well as tournaments in schools and colleges. We believe that the players need playing time. We arrange 12-14 tournaments every year that keep the players busy," Mahfizul mentioned.
The Women's team is also quite promising as it drew against Taiwan, an established side. It was just the first time they were participating in the 'Get Into Rugby' programme.
Mahfizul Islam was the coach of the Bangladesh Rugby team when they become champions of the Bowl Group in 2017 Asia Rugby Sevens trophy. He believes that if the team is brought under a long term training course, then it can be possible for the side to compete at least in the Asian level.
"Among the SAARC countries, Sri Lanka are way ahead of us. India and Pakistan also started long ago, but I think we are a good side in rugby sevens. If the players are coached by an experienced trainer for a longer-term, than I hope they will be able to challenge at least the second-string teams, if not the top ones like Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia."
"I see rugby becoming one of the top four-five sports in Bangladesh in the next five years. The reason why I am saying that is that the retention rate is 85-90 per cent. That means the percentage of players dropping out is very low, unlike other sports. We had planned to arrange a school tournament this year which would include 40 districts, only to be halted by Covid-19. We'll arrange it regularly because we believe that we have to expand the sport to every nook and corner of the country in order to recognise talents. That's what we need to do in order to become a force. We are now a voting member of Asia Rugby. We will try and become a full member of the World Rugby within the next few years," added Mahfizul.
It's evident that if the players are guided appropriately and coached by international trainers, they can go a long way. In this regard, The Business Standard (TBS) spoke to Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, the president of the Bangladesh Rugby Federation Union.
He said, "There is a long way to go to reach the world standard. We are now, you can say, in the infancy. So, we have to up the standard. Yes, we need to bring foreign trainers and make long-term plans. Covid-19 has obstructed the plans big time."
The Federation was recently heavily criticised for allegedly making a mockery of Covid-19 by arranging the 'Corona Cup Rugby.' State minister of youth and sports Zahid Ahsan Russell led the criticism. But the federation president said that they arranged the tournament in order to develop mass awareness.
"Our message, through this tournament, was to increase the awareness. We have to maintain our personal and professional life despite the risks posed by Covid-19. We have to follow the protocols. The players who played were negative for Covid-19. Also, we did not impose all the rules of rugby and avoided bodily contact as much as we could."
But will the criticism from the ministry, as well as the sports fraternity, will have a negative impact on rugby in Bangladesh? Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin answers:
"I see the glass as half full. To every action, there will be equal and opposite reactions. We did that for a good cause. So I don't think it will affect the game," he signed off.