Why I won't be booking Bangladesh flights any time soon
As most of you know, I earn my dollar as a teacher, which has some pretty frustrating ramifications for following England abroad. Although at first glance it seems like the perfect job for cricket touring, the schedules usually mock me, tempting me with the offer of days 4 and 5 of a single Test or a couple of back-of-beyond ODIs. I’ve not made it away since Sri Lanka 2012 and I’m so restless to get away again. The Future Tours Programme is pretty much etched on my brain and I’ve been hoping for some years that Bangladesh 2016 would fit into my October half term.
But in the last year, the appeal of touring Bangladesh has begun to wane. Where I was once full of excitement about the prospect of an experience even more intense than India, of seeing the brutalist Dhaka and Chittagong but blending with a mix of the hardy English faithful and the ever enthusiastic local supporters, now it’s impossible to avoid the growing safety concerns.
It’s bad enough that I missed out on the last Pakistan tour, although there are glimmers of hope that cricket may return there after the terrorist attack that targeted the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009. I’m not convinced this tour is actually going to go ahead though, at least not in Bangladesh, and since I started feeling this way the ECB has confirmed that the tour may be in jeopardy.
On 1 July IS-affiliated gunmen massacred over 20 people in a café; they particularly targeted foreigners. Sadly the political bickering between both Labour and Tory leadership candidates kept this news off the headlines but for me it cemented my fears. It’s not only foreigners being attacked in Bangladesh under the banner of IS. In the past twelve months I have been increasingly aware of the brutal murders of many who are seen as outside the strict Muslim mainstream that extremists want to maintain. Secular writers, academics, members of religious minorities have all been attacked, usually by multiple assailants, usually in public, usually in daylight.
Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to say with confidence that I would feel safe in Bangladesh.
And although I do believe the ECB’s security detail is sufficient to protect the players in this environment, I don’t think supporters can feel so confident.
There’s a narrative in the West about defiance in the face of such attacks on freedom and I gladly travelled to sporting events in Paris, used public transport in London, and wouldn’t be put off returning to Mumbai or Sydney in the wake of their own more recent terror attacks. It’s just that I cannot see how in a climate where foreigners are deliberately and brutally targeted, even where they are mixing peacefully with Bangladeshi residents respecting the holy month of Ramadan, England supporters can feel safe. That’s before you factor in travel insurance and Foreign Office advice.
Flights are currently about £450 (yes, I’m so keen to go if I can that I’ve checked them out already!) and I can’t afford to lose out on that cash if the tour is cancelled or relocated. I know how powerful the positive influence of tourism can be in countries like Bangladesh and if the tour does go ahead, I’ll be the first one searching for last minute flights to join the team.
Perhaps more likely is the option of locating the matches in India, coming as they do just before England’s tour of Bangladesh’s larger, more powerful and generally safer neighbour. There would be political tensions with this move and it would take some mammoth negotiations with the BCCI, I’m sure, but I can’t help thinking there are a lot of people who would feel an awful lot safer in India than in Dhaka and Chittagong.
I really, truly hope that the security situation in Bangladesh improves sufficiently for this tour to happen in full as planned; they’ve got three months. Wish them luck.