After the Bangladesh Hockey Federation (BHF) elections in April 2019, there were high hopes that the new leadership would get the Premier Hockey League (PHL) back on track but those fond hopes have proved to be unfounded so far, and the coronavirus pandemic has plunged the league into further uncertainty.
After being elected to the post of BHF general secretary, with backing from the Dhaka clubs, Mominul Haque Shaheed promised to stage the PHL -- last held in 2018 -- in October but fled the country after his alleged involvement in the casino scandal of 'Motijheel Club Para' last September. Shaheed was supposed to give financial assistance to five to seven clubs, and so his continued absence has dealt a big blow.
BHF officials have since been engaged in less important activities at the expense of the PHL -- the lone income source for players, who have been experiencing hardships in the midst of the pandemic.
The game's governing body initially focused on preparations for the U-21 team for the now-suspended Junior Asia Cup in Dhaka and holding the school hockey tournament. The federation has finally started shifting focus to the Premier Hockey League for post-pandemic times, but that depends on the will of participating clubs, some of which always seek more time and delay the process, citing financial inability.
"Actually, there is no benefit in running tournaments other than Premier Hockey League. We, a group of officials, told the BHF president [Air Chief Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat] that our first task should be to stage the league when hockey activities resume and the president also wants that," said BHF Vice-president Zaki Ahmed Ripon, who is also the secretary of Abahani's hockey committee.
Ripon added that he does not want to stage any other tournament as the chairman of BHF's tournament committee.
Since Shaheed's departure in September, the BHF took nearly five months to form the league committee, which then asked clubs to send representatives but in the wake of the pandemic could not even sit together for a single meeting.
BHF Vice-president Abdur Rashid Shikdar, a close ally of Shaheed, believes some clubs and the federation itself were affected by Shaheed's absence but insisted that every stakeholder must now come forward to stage the PHL.
"It will be tough to hold the premier league if the clubs don't want to participate. All stakeholders, including the clubs, sponsors and players must come forward and make some personal efforts to get the premier league running," said Shikdar, also the president of Usha KC, which was relegated to the first division after failing to form a squad in the last edition.
"In the post-pandemic period, sponsors won't be able to donate like they did before because of the coronavirus pandemic. The clubs won't be able to take part in the league without donations from sponsors or individuals. So, I request sponsors and individual patrons to come forward with whatever amount they can donate and the clubs should also come forward with whatever amount they manage. Finally, the players have to agree to receive amounts that are less than they received in the last edition," explained Shikdar.
BHF Treasurer and Bangladesh Sporting Club General Secretary Hazi Mohammad Humayun said that his club also want the league to take place but they need financial assistance from the government.
"We will also take part in the league if every club participates, but we don't know how to manage funds in the current scenario. If the government gives small clubs like Bangladesh SC financial incentives to form squads, it will help us to take part in the premier league," said Humayun.
Asked whether the federation could provide financial assistance to the premier league clubs, Abdur Rashid Shikdar said, "The federation is not financially solvent, but it helped clubs in second and first division leagues."
Now rolling the premier hockey league on the turf solely depends on the willingness of the clubs, who the title contenders can easily cut their expenditure by banning the foreign players this time and everything will be cleared once the league committee starts with the club representatives to learn their view regarding the league.