POST TIME: 17 October, 2019 08:18:38 PM
Gianni Infantino: ‘Football is number 1 in Bangladesh’
Independent Online/ UNB

Gianni Infantino: ‘Football is number 1 in Bangladesh’

Photo: UNB

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has insisted that football remains the number one sport in Bangladesh, and is hopeful of a bright future for ‘the beautiful game’ in the country that matches up to its enormous popularity.

Concluding a day-long stay in the capital as part of his ‘Goodwill tour’ through Asia, the boss of world football’s governing body held a press conference Thursday at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, where he appreciated football’s enduring popularity in the country.  

“I thought I came to a country which knows something about football,” Infantino said in his prepared statement. “But I found that the country is not just only playing football, not only have passion for football, they are living football. ‘Living Football’ is the motto of new FIFA.”

“I have discussed about the future of Bangladesh football with the Prime Minister at her office. Also I held discussions about the future and development of football in the country and in the region with Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) Chief and other officials,” added the Swiss-Italian, who took over the reins of world football in 2016.

Asked about his plans or suggestions for Bangladesh football’s development, Infantino replied, “We have a few plans for Bangladesh’s football. I discussed with the Prime Minister about new infrastructure, new stadiums and more competitions for men and women. Women are doing incredibly well worldwide as well as in Bangladesh. I am happy seeing the improvement.”

Taking a half-joking dig at cricket, the other great passion for the country’s sports lovers, the 49-year-old FIFA head declared: “I don’t believe cricket is the number one sport in Bangladesh. Football is the number one sport of Bangladesh. Cricket is a boring game…”

hat prompted some laughter in the room, although it was probably understandable for an Italian. Moving on to the importance of club football, Infantino suggested some plans for the development of football in Bangladesh.

“People play cricket because there are so many opportunities, competitions. People need enough opportunities to play football. The federation, the government and businesses have to invest in football. People need more clubs, more club-competitions. If people get these opportunities, they will obviously come to football,” explained Infantino.  

Coming to the game itself, he appreciated Bangladesh captain Jamal Bhuiyan and Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, who is half-Bangladeshi,  and shared his views against racism on the occasion. 

BFF President Kazi Salahuddin, who is also currently serving as president of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF), BFF Senior Vice-President Abdus Salam Murshedy, Vice-President Kazi Nabil Ahmed MP, Women’s Wing Chairperson as well as FIFA council member Mahfuza Akhter Kiron, General Secretary Md Abu Nayeem Shohag and other BFF Executive Committee members and officials were also present on the occasion.

Earlier, a five-member FIFA delegation led by Infantino arrived in Dhaka in just before dawn on Thursday, responding to an invitation of the BFF.

Accompanying Infantino are FIFA Deputy Secretary General (Football) Mattias Grafstrom, Chief of Communications Onofre Costa, Director of Member Associations (Asia and Oceania) Sanjeevan Balasingam, and President’s Office Manager Federico Raviglione.

Official engagements started with a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her office in the morning.

The FIFA president expressed his observations on the improved performances of Bangladeshi football teams, including the senior men’s side and girls at junior level, to the Prime Minister and assured that they will continue their support to Bangladesh for the promotion of its football.

The Prime Minister relayed to the delegation that her government is constructing 492 mini-stadiums at sub-district levels across the country for the promotion of games and sports.

She said primary school-level sports competitions are arranged for both boys and girls in Bangladesh, so that more and more children become interested in games and sports.

PM's Private Industry and Investment Adviser and Chairman of Abahani KC Salman F Rahman, State Minister for Youth and Sports Zahid Ahsan Russell, BFF President Kazi Md Salahuddin, Senior Vice President Abdus Salam Murshedy MP and Vice President Kazi Nabil Ahmed, were present on the occasion.

They then visited the BFF office and artificial turf in Motijheel, where they also held a meeting with the executive committee of BFF.    

The delegation left Dhaka at 5 pm.

Infantino is the third consecutive FIFA President to visit Bangladesh, following his predecessors Sepp Blatter and Joao Havelange.