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Off the Bench and on the (Kabaddi) field

  • Published at 10:35 am August 16th, 2020
D2_ August, 2020_Kabaddi

Efaz Rahman Khan teases two exciting ventures

Ask the average Bangladeshi schoolkid to name our natural sport, ten to one, kabaddi (the official name given to the sport colloquially known as ‘ha-du-du’), which happens to be the right answer, will not come to mind. You can’t really blame them. As the national sport of Bangladesh, Kabaddi is supposed to get more limelight. With a very limited number of tournaments held at a professional level, the teams that are active, mostly consist of members of the military—leaving out civilian/grassroots players. Without any proper infrastructure, these players are not being able to showcase their talents. The lack of existing competitive events for Kabaddi means that a system of scouting for talents is yet to be established. Ironically, BKSP, the national institute for sports, doesn’t include our national sport in its curriculum. 

In contrast, our neighbour India hosts a professional-level league, known as the Pro Kabaddi League. The franchise-based model, mostly influenced by the Indian Premier League proved to be a great success with already seven seasons held. 

Enter Efaz Rahman Khan, an entrepreneur and a brand consultant with a track record of successfully initiating unique projects. Along with Syed Eshamul Alam, Mashiur Rahman Khan and the entire team of MeshBoard, he took the initiative to bring back the glory days of our national sport. The professional league will consist of eight teams for each division. The groundwork for the league is currently under construction, as the launch that was supposed to take place over this summer got postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. The “Grand Kabaddi League,” is expected to be launched around March next year which will also mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence. This initiative is with full partnership and support of the Sports Ministry and Kabaddi Federation. The launch also depends on the Covid-19 situation, given that it improves.

The view from the Bench

Many of us fondly remember The Bench, a short-lived, but extremely popular sports café once situated in Gulshan. Efaz was one of the Co-founders of the popular eatery which back in the day, took the youth by storm, providing a platform for them to watch sports and have a nice meal at the same time in sports themed seating areas. It became a social melting pot with constant activities like, table-tennis on normal days, the open area which could quickly be turned into a mini gaming arena, host concert nights, open mics, movie, salsa and also standup comedies. There were also gaming rooms for people who wanted to come in and play video games. “Even though I’m not much of a follower of all the sports, I genuinely love the spirit that sports bring to its followers,” said Efaz. 

The Bench, which opened in 2010, would enjoy three years of acclaim before its extremely young founders parted ways and turned their focus to higher studies. During the time, Efaz was also a part of the team that organized the opening ceremony of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL)’s first season of cricket tournaments. Being inspired by the setup and the organization, he thought of starting a professional kabaddi league – a sport which has been the most popular in the subcontinent for years. Pro Kabaddi was launched in India in 2014. “Even though I wish I had started it earlier making good use of the past three or four years, I would still say it was a good thing.” The launch in India introduced the idea of a professional kabaddi league to the people, making it a bit easier for him to pitch the plan.

Now here comes the re-match

The years following the Bench were a period of soul searching, growth, and research for Efaz, as he worked on several low-profile entrepreneurial projects. He admits that the journey of trial and error, paved with many setbacks and disappointments, but chooses to see everything as part of his education.

“The past three years, in particular, have been immense for me in terms of understanding my own self. Even though my general perception and thoughts towards life remains unchanged, for the first time my standpoint regarding ‘regret’ has changed,” he added. “As there is no undo option in life, I simply had to start learning from the bad decisions, unfruitful investments and consequences of lack of focus. And now I am using those as my main driving force to get back to things I am best known for among my peers. Efaz also teased the upcoming relaunch of The Bench. After a decade of planning and thinking, the work has already started. 

Get set, Kabaddi!

Work on the Grand Kabaddi League is also underway. Kabaddi events are held in almost all parts of the country, mostly organized by local communities that bring in multitudes of spectators from villages far and wide. A typical event brings somewhere between 500-5000 spectators, as Efaz observed while being on a work trip in Manikganj. This gave him the confidence that there was a potential of this league being a success financially. 

The eight teams will be up for sale at an auction, in a format similar to that of the BPL. After the first season, Efaz and his team members are hopeful that the number of teams will increase, with each district eventually having their team. Getting to that scale would require some time as Efaz suggested. “My goal is to make the locals feel like they are a part of the team,” he added. “This would be a unique experience for the people, and if it creates new job avenues among the locals, which I am confident that it will, and even if I can achieve half of the targets initially, I would consider myself blessed and successful. The idea of success was never only about the money for me which is usually the general social perception, but success for me is getting to create something that leaves a mark in people’s lives. Otherwise, I could be working in some multinational company or even be the head of the security for an airline and not be able to be a part of the legacy I hope this will leave.” The games will be held in both home and away fixtures, therefore no team will be having any extra advantage. A pre-season nationwide Player Hunt is going to take place which would also help enhance the atmosphere required to make any sporting event a success.

The inception of this league would open doors of opportunity to many nonprofessional players to showcase their talents and create a proper infrastructure this sport has been lacking. Helping Scouters to set up a pipeline of players coming from every division to fight for the national team. This would certainly improve the quality of the sport enabling Bangladesh to strongly compete in international tournaments and put our national sport in its rightful place. 

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