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Feature

Bangladesh's stadia fiasco: high prices, low buzz, and lack of amenities keep the fans away

The majority of matches this year have been played in front of empty stands, and the situation doesn't look like improving soon

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
10-Jul-2023
A notice inside the press box at the Shere Bangla Stadium, Bangladesh v West Indies, 1st Test, Mirpur, 2nd day, November 14, 2012

Sparse crowds have been a common sight for Bangladesh at home in 2023  •  Mohammad Isam/ESPNcricinfo

The passion for cricket in Bangladesh has not translated to big crowds in international matches in the country's three main venues, with Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet all presenting empty stands in the majority of matches this year.
While it's not unusual for Test matches in the country to be played in front of empty stands, the worrying part for Bangladesh cricket now is the lack of crowds in ODIs and T20Is as well.
All three stadiums have a 15,000-plus capacity, with the Shere Bangla National Stadium having the largest seating facility. It is located in the Mirpur area, considered the most populous locality in the capital. On many occasions during the ODI series against England and Ireland, though, the crowds haven't been up to the mark. Ireland also played in front of mostly empty stands in Chattogram and Sylhet. The two one-off Tests this year were empty, too, presumably because fans didn't really find Tests against Ireland and Afghanistan attractive enough.
There is, however, huge interest in terms of participation at the grassroots and club level, as well as large social-media engagement. Cricket remains the most popular sport in Bangladesh in terms of amateur and professional level participation. There are millions of cricket fans who are constantly sharing and posting about the game throughout the year. Therefore, fans and organisers believe that these three stadiums pose different problems for the public.
Abtahi Omi, a student who lives in Chattogram, regularly attends matches at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury, which in 2023 has hosted its most international men's matches in a year (discounting 2014 when the T20 World Cup was held here). Omi has observed that there is lack of awareness even among people living or working near the stadium about international matches.
"Compared to previous years, the crowds have been less this year," Omi said. "There are many reasons. I think one of those is the economic situation in the country. There is also a lack of publicity about the series. I don't see anywhere in Chittagong city any signs that an international series is going on. Previously there was always some type of announcements or signage in most parts of city. I think that makes a bit of difference.
"Many people around the stadium area ask me about whether there's a match coming up. When I tell them it's today, they are surprised about it. Usually that Sagarika area is abuzz before a Bangladesh match. But these days nobody knows about the matches until the day of the match."
Sirajuddin Mohammad Alamgir, general secretary of the Chattogram Divisional Sports Association, is a well-known sports orgsaniser in the region. He believes the lack of facilities at the Chattogram venue plays a huge part in discouraging fans from turning up to matches.
"There has been no infrastructural development in this venue since 2010," Alamgir said. "There is no overhead protection in most of the galleries. The NSC (National Sports Council) builds these stadiums. The divisional sporting authority owns the stadium, and the BCB is in charge of maintenance. The NSC has a lot of work in their hand so these bodies have to show coordination. Responsibilities have to be shared, and these facilities have to improve. Otherwise the public will turn their backs to the stadium.
"You won't find a decent restaurant in the whole area. Someone enters the ground around 2pm, and then leaves around 11pm. How can they have lunch and dinner?"
Sirajuddin Mohammad Alamgir, the general secretary of the Chattogram Divisional Sports Association, on the troubles fans face
"Not too long ago, it used to be full capacity. Filling a 17000-seat stadium wasn't a big deal. Chittagong is a big city. Cricket is a popular sport here, but someone has to take responsibility to improve the facilities. We have to improve the infrastructure and the utilities like toilets and prayer areas.
"You won't find a decent restaurant in the whole area. Someone enters the ground around 2pm, and then leaves around 11pm. How can they have lunch and dinner? These have to be brought up to an international standard. If we cannot fulfill the crowds' demand, they will slowly stop coming."
Omi and Alamgir agreed that the stadium experience in Chattogram isn't up to the mark. It is located on the outskirts of the port city, inside an area that mainly has different types of factories. The approach road is 1.4km long, but halfway through, fans are met with security barriers. From there, they have to walk to the stadium. The ticketing and security policy is such that fans cannot take outside food or most items with them. Inside, the food prices are exorbitant and water is served in plastic glasses, at a higher-than-normal price. Water bottles aren't allowed because of fear that they would be thrown on the pitch.
"It is a mixed experience inside the stadium, frankly," Omi said. "Food prices are unaffordable inside the stadium. Firstly, a person most probably buys the match ticket at a higher price in the black market. Then, the food price is high. Toilets don't have water. Maybe boys can manage this, but girls won't be able to manage. Generally the seats aren't clean, but this time I have seen they have installed new seats.
Alamgir explained the difficulties fans face, starting from buying the tickets to coming to the stadium and then returning home.
"These days, they sell tickets from two booths, in MA Aziz Stadium and near the main venue on match days," Alamgir said. "Ticket sales used to be through many bank branches, so finding tickets have become a hassle now.
"A person commuting from Oxygen Bus Stand, going to the stadium would cost him a minimum 300 taka. A big city like Chittagong needs more than just two ticket booths, Once you reach the stadium area, the ticket-holder has to leave your vehicle near the Bitac circle.
"It is a walk of at least one kilometer from there. Then when the match is finished, sometimes late at night, they have to walk till the Pahartali area to get a public vehicle. It is not desirable for families. These are the reasons why the amount of crowds is on the wane."
But the trouble isn't limited to fans in Chattogram. Even in Dhaka, where the Shere Bangla National Stadium is in a highly populated area, there are similar problems for fans.
Sameed Quasem, a businessman and cricket fanatic, stopped going to the Dhaka venue for the last six years after he realised just how well fans are treated in other parts of the world.
"Between 2009 and 2017, I have been to most international matches in Mirpur. But after traveling to a few places like India and England to watch Bangladesh's matches, I realised the experience in Mirpur was terrible.
"We get harassed by security guards when getting in. They don't let you take anything with you. In England they let you take stuff like cigarettes and lighters into the ground, even though they have tight security. They have smoking zones outside the ground. "It is just uncomfortable being in Mirpur for more than four or five hours to watch a match. The food is so bad in Mirpur. You need to eat a few times during an ODI. In England and India, the overall quality of food was significantly above Bangladesh stadium standards."
The other major obstacle for fans in Bangladesh is the lack of tickets available for the general public. The BCB distributes complimentary tickets to its many affiliates and as a result, many people don't turn up, even if they have access to VIP or grandstand seats. It is a common scene that even when the general galleries are half filled, these higher-priced seats remain empty.
A more comfortable stadium experience is the need of the hour, and the BCB can start, at the very least, by giving something back to the fans who always turn up for home matches.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84