(Photo: FIH)

If participation is an indicator of a sport's popularity, then the number of young players at the National School Hockey Tournament bodes well for hockey in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Hockey Federation (BHF) has an ambitious vision for hockey in the country and, following a visit by FIH President Leandro Negre, that dream seems to be moving a little closer to reality. 

Leandro visited Bangladesh at the end of January and saw first hand one of the initiatives, the Bangladesh National School Hockey Tournament, in full swing. The main purpose of his visit was to inaugurate the event at its opening ceremony. This took place at the Maulana Bhashani National Hockey Stadium and, with 1,632 players from 102 schools participating, he witnessed a little piece of history being made; the tournament, which was played over 10 venues, was the largest in the history of Bangladesh hockey. It was an inclusive and well-supported event, with all 64 Bangladesh districts represented and the BHF pouring US $250,000 into ensuring the success and legacy of the event.

Over the course of his visit, Leandro visited the National Sports Academy, met the new Minister for Youth and Sports of Bangladesh, Biren Shikdar, the President of the BHF, Air Marshall Enamul Bari and the Secretary General of Bangladesh Olympic Association. He also renewed acquaintances with the vice president of BHF, Abdus Sadeque, who had played against the FIH President in the 1968 Olympics when Spain played Pakistan.

The Asian country's hockey bosses have identified the 2024 Olympics for Bangladesh's arrival on the international hockey scene, but in the meantime a series of initiatives and projects will act as stepping stones along the journey. However, as with any sport fighting for its place on the national sporting scene, hockey in Bangladesh has some obstacles to overcome.

In an open debate on the future of Bangladesh hockey, Leandro heard many of the issues facing BHF, including the need for more artificial pitches and a plead for help in both technical areas and player development from the more established nations of the hockey world. To address these issues, Leandro said that the FIH would finance the provision of a new sand-filled pitch and support player and umpire development through providing a European coach, facilitating umpiring and coaching courses and granting scholarships for Bangladeshi hockey players to play hockey in Europe.

In a speech to his hosts, Leandro expressed his wish to return to Bangladesh in September 2014 to inaugurate the planned, new pitch and to close the first round of the World Hockey League.