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Friday, January 27, 2023

Bangladesh and Argentina: From football to friendship and diplomatic relations

The Argentines are both overwhelmed and mesmerised by the way Bangladeshis support their team. The purpose seems unclear at first sight for many, who wonder why a nation so far away is supporting the Argentine football team with so much enthusiasm. The answer can be traced to one single word: love.

The recently concluded FIFA World Cup undoubtedly gripped people all over the world. Meanwhile, a new oscillation has emerged on social media for Bangladesh in the case of supporting Argentina in the FIFA World Cup. Bangladeshi football fans have long supported the Latin American country in every way possible.

The Argentines are both overwhelmed and mesmerised by the way Bangladeshis support their team. The purpose seems unclear at first sight for many, who wonder why a nation so far away is supporting the Argentine football team with so much enthusiasm. The answer can be traced to one single word: love.

The love for Argentine football, particularly for Diego Maradona, had grown since the 1986 World Cup and was augmented by the legend of football, Lionel Messi, who elevated the Bangladeshi fan base to the second largest outside of Argentina.

Bangladeshi fans of the Argentine football team expressed their support in several ways: by wearing jerseys, wrapping flags, hoisting them on top of the roof, and watching live matches with friends and relatives with sheer excitement.

Such an amount of devotion did not go into negligence; FIFA shared a video showing how Bangladeshi fans are celebrating Argentina’s win over Mexico. The Argentine coach, Lionel Scaloni, tweeted for Bangladesh and thanked the Bangladeshi people for their love and support.

Now the Argentines, after seeing such enormous affection from Bangladeshi football fans, want to exchange something also. The Argentines support Bangladesh in cricket, but they barely know about the game. Yet that did not stop them from supporting and learning it. Some are asking where they can find Bangladeshi flags and jerseys.

The consequence of this mutual relationship has created a situation where many Argentines are sharing information about Bangladesh. Bangladeshi cultures are introduced into their television channels as TVP Vivo broadcast a programme on how to cook biryani, a sub-continental food popular in Bangladesh. And the journalists also covered the Bangladeshi fans’ craze about how they support their team. One such report in the Buenos Aires Times noted that from young children to retirees, ‘the throng stood for nearly the entire match’ before the big screen at Dhaka University. An article by a Bangladeshi journalist on Lionel Messi was also translated into Spanish during the tournament.

Even after Argentina’s historic World Cup win, Bangladeshi fans had a sleepless and joyous night. Even in the dead parts of the night, Bangladeshi fans regardless of class and strata, alongside their friends and family, took to the streets to celebrate the victory. The Buenos Aires Times also covered the event.

There is no doubt that this situation of mutual participation can only emerge in an age of globalisation where social media plays an active role in shaping our ways of thinking. For a time, it can demonstrate that the dominant culture does not always influence the others, but that cultural sharing can occur through affection, which is less influenced by power dynamics.

Although there is no Argentine embassy in Bangladesh and Argentina does not have a diplomatic institution, this kind of interaction between the two countries has incidentally bolstered their cultural and diplomatic relations. Bangladesh and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of ‘bilateral consultations’ in July this year, before the Qatar World Cup 2022.

Argentina was ‘actively considering’ the possibility of opening an embassy in Bangladesh because of its significant economic opportunities. The two countries celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations at that meeting. However, Santiago Cafiero, the Argentine foreign minister, tweeted on December 10, before the World Cup semi-finals, that Argentina is going to reopen its embassy in Bangladesh, which has been closed since 1978. In that tweet, Cafiero was seen shaking the hand of his Bangladeshi counterpart, AK Momen.

Argentina’s World Cup win has also become an auspicious event for diplomacy between the countries. Bangladesh’s prime minister sent a message of congratulations to Argentina’s president. Foreign minister Momen also greeted his counterpart. Such greetings and congratulations have opened a new channel of diplomatic communication between the countries. And undoubtedly, the credit goes to Bangladeshi fans.

The population of Bangladesh is almost 170 million, much higher than the 45 million in Argentina, but its land area is almost 18 times larger than Bangladesh’s. Argentina, with its lush tropical rain forests, flat lands, and sea beaches, could be a new exploration zone for Bangladeshi tourists and travelers. Argentina contains the tallest peak of the Andes, Mount Aconcagua, as well as the rocky deserts of Patagonia. The mesmerising sea beaches of Cox’s Bazar and the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, in Bangladesh can also be tourist destinations for Argentines.

It has been long since the two countries’ officials have taken measures to improve their trade relations. Both sides agreed to further strengthen and improve commercial and business ties. Besides the suggestions for the tourism industry, Bangladesh’s ready-made garment exports to Latin American countries can facilitate economic convenience. The agricultural sector, in particular, has a big role to play in finding a scope that harmonises the two countries’ landscapes and environments.

One thing will always be remembered that in the turbulent months of 1971, when East Pakistan was struggling to promulgate its existence as ‘Bangladesh’, Victoria Ocampo, the famous Argentine writer and intellectual, denounced the unjust occupation and atrocities of the Pakistani occupation forces, drawing the attention of the international communities and raising awareness for the Bengalis. Ocampo was a lifelong follower of Rabindranath Tagore and also met with him when the poet arrived in Buenos Aires in 1924. Later in her 80s, weak, frail, and barely able to care for herself, Ocampo used her reputation to launch a campaign to help the beleaguered Bengalis. Perhaps the Bengalis’ affinity for the Argentine team stems not only from Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, but also from Victoria Ocampo’s role; who knows?

The popularity of football has brought people closer and may eventually materialise the people-to-people connection. It is hoped that Dhaka and Buenos Aires can be strategic allies through which mutual interests can develop a long-term partnership between the two countries. The Argentina-Bangladesh relationship can be an excellent example of cultural exchanges between people from two distant continents, not just for the sake of entertainment but as a token of gratitude.

Courtesy: New Age, Bangladesh

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