Bangladesh has spruced up its capital Dhaka for the World Cup as it seeks to take advantage of a prime opportunity to rebrand a country often known only for devastating floods and cyclones.
The impoverished South Asian nation has spent more than $100 million to tidy up for the tournament it co-hosts with India and Sri Lanka, looking at the showpiece as the biggest event since independence in 1971.
Beggars have been paid to stay off roads, hawkers have been evicted from overcrowded pavements and buildings given a new coat of paint.
Efforts have even been made to reduce the infamous traffic jams in the bustling capital.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to forge a new image for the country, whose economy has grown at a hefty rate of six percent annually over the past decade, has won support from private banks and businesses.
“In the present world perspective, sports are not a mere entertainment, rather they help brand a country,” Hasina said at the renovated Bangabandhu National Stadium where Thursday’s opening ceremony takes place.
“The social and economic condition of the country would be consolidated if Bangladesh can be branded through the World Cup,” she said, adding the tournament was a “matter of pride” for the country’s 146 million people.
Even though Bangladesh hosts just eight of the 49 matches at two venues, in Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong, the entire nation is in the grip of cricket fever.
“The World Cup has given us a great opportunity to show the world, particularly the global press, that we are not only a country of floods, cyclones or natural disasters,” said Ramendu Majumdar, a top branding expert.
“It is the biggest event we have hosted since independence. And I think so far the government has done a decent job to promote the country despite limitations,” he said.
Authorities have also stepped up security and launched enormous drills with helicopters, paratroopers and tanks to protect the event from terror attacks.
Mukhlesur Rahman, who heads the Rapid Action Battalion that is entrusted with security during the event, said thousands of RAB officers, police and army had been deployed to ensure foolproof security.
“We have the biggest security arrangement ever,” he said. “Dhaka will be under a security blanket from the airport to dressing rooms inside the stadiums.
“We are prepared to face any situation including militant attacks.”
Bangladesh’s recent one-day success, including a 4-0 thrashing of New Zealand late last year, has raised the country’s cricket profile and boosted interest in the World Cup.
“Players like (skipper) Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal can walk into any world side. This team is confident and this has raised the expectations of the whole nation.”
Canadian singer Bryan Adams will be the star attraction at the opening ceremony, which will also include performances by Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi artistes.
“We want to showcase a bold and beautiful country in the opening ceremony,” said Ali Ahsan Babu, a member of the organising committee in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh are drawn with co-hosts India, South Africa, England, the West Indies, the Netherlands and Ireland in group B of the preliminary league, from which four teams will qualify for the quarter-finals.
Bangladesh play India in the tournament opener in Dhaka on Saturday.