Written By: Mahbubur Rahman and YPF Communications
Football, Soccer, fútbol, or voetbal— whatever we call it locally, has become a universal language to millions of people across the globe. Unsurprisingly, FIFA, International football’s governing body, has over two hundred member states — more than the United Nations. The multi-purposive functionality of football has engaged state and non-state actors alike and become a prominent public diplomacy tool.
Its global popularity and near-universal participation reveal its importance in international politics, especially in states’ attempts to influence and attract others’ policies without taking coercive measures, which is coined as “Soft Power” by Joseph Nye.
From the very first FIFA World Cup of 1930 in Uruguay to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, every host country, as well as the participating countries, took measures to uphold their image on the global stage. From Uruguay’s setting up of a ninety-thousand-seat stadium, Germany’s slogan – “It’s time to make friends” in 2006, to the praise of Russia in the air as the 2018 world cup host set the examples.
Unfortunately, the national football team of Bangladesh never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Despite the fact, as a universal language, football attracts the people of Bangladesh like any other nation playing on the international stage. When the FIFA world cup takes over the stage, Bangladeshi people, irrespective of their age or class, form different fan groups, upstand the national flags of their favorite teams, and even participate in demonstrations chanting slogans wishing good luck to their favorite teams. This unwavering support from Bangladeshi fans for teams of another continent has recently attracted national and international media coverage. Recent developments in this arena significantly open new doors of diplomatic relations for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and Argentina- United by football:
The passion for Cricket in Bangladesh is well-known, but the world was unaware of how the passion for football is also extensive though their own national team is a long way from a World Cup appearance. Traversing geographical and political differences, Bangladesh and Argentina are united by sports to develop an indelible unity. The entire chronicle started in Bangladesh. Mesmerized by what Mario Kempes did with the ball, the green and reds formed an indelible bond with the blue and whites. The connection eclipsed to an everlasting stature a few years later when they witnessed the awe-inspiring rise of the phenomenon known as Diego Maradona. His retirement could not deter Bangladeshi fans from supporting La Albiceleste; instead, the leadership of Lionel Messi won the hearts of millions of Argentina fans in Bangladesh.
The installment of giant screens, with the hope of witnessing the Argentine renaissance led by Messi, fans gathering in thousands, celebrating every goal and demonstrations after winning matches- all are crazy for fans more than 10000 kilometers away from Argentina.
For decades, Argentines had little to no knowledge of this madness of Bangladeshis. But finally during the Qatar World Cup 2022, it caught the attention of almost everyone from the common people of Argentina to the coach of Argentine Football Association, from FIFA to the leading International News outlets.
In return, Argentinians did not forget to pay back their love and respect for Bangladeshis. Argentina’s football federation has already sent one message via Twitter to thank the Bangladeshi people for their support. Some Argentine journalists started posting tweets in Bengali. Lionel Scaloni, Argentina’s manager, said. “It makes us proud that the people in Bangladesh are supporting Argentina like this.”
Not only that, a group of Argentines opened a facebook group to support Bangladesh Cricket Team where thousands of Argentines poured in. When Bangladesh won their first ODI series match against India, Argentine wishes were flooding all the social media. The countless instances of mutual show of love in that group (such as – Argentines tattooing Bangladesh flag) are themselves tales for another separate write-up.
These are the symbols of how football united the citizens of two different cultures and geographical realities and also set the ground for government officials to further this people-to-people relationship into a diplomatic reality.
Diplomatic Relation With Argentina:
Since the independence of Bangladesh, there has been a friendly but insignificant relationship with Argentina. Bangladesh opened its consulate office in Buenos Aires in the 1970s, but a few years later, it got permanently closed. On the other hand, Argentina does not have an embassy or consulate in Dhaka. Over time, bilateral visits took place, quite a few, but each time with the hope of deepening the relationship.
Argentina can be a significant export destination for Bangladeshi ships, pharmaceuticals, readymade garments, melamine, and ceramics. In Argentina, there is a good demand for Bangladeshi ceramics, ‘FARR Ceramics’ is considered a major Bangladeshi ceramics exporter to the Southern Cone. On the other hand, Argentinian soybean oil at a competitive price can be a massive value addition during this reserve crisis. Along with Brazil, Argentina can be a gateway to Latin America for Bangladeshi imports and exports. To get into the Latin American market of more than 650 million people, we need to establish diplomatic and trade relationships with these countries, and football diplomacy can pave the way.
Football as a Strategic Tool:
Historically, sports play a significant role in public diplomacy and soft power, which help states attract other states and pursue preferred policies without using coercive measures. Crazy Bangladeshi fans of Argentina and their recognition from Argentinian officials and citizens heighten the possibility of establishing a lasting diplomatic relationship. Not surprisingly, the Argentinian sherpa at the G20 summit met the Bangladeshi sherpa and talked about the future of the Bangladesh-Argentina trade relationship. The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs boosted this news posting on their social media accounts. But they are yet to take any formal steps.
The Way Forward:
Examining the power of sport as a strategic tool to further diplomatic relations, it is high time Bangladesh took the initiative to set up a permanent embassy in Buenos Aires as soon as possible, along with the necessary formalities to boost the relationship. Not only trade and commerce, but Bangladesh can also be a tourist attraction for Argentines since they are highly likely to know the Bangladeshi culture. Exporting cultural symbols such as specific food items or maybe having exhibitions of Bangladeshi art and culture in major cities etc, similar to what the US does with the EMK Centre here in Bangladesh, can be useful too. Overall, a formal diplomatic relationship with Argentina will help us get into the vast market for Bangladeshi goods, and it is a timely demand to pursue policies accordingly.