In Bangladesh, the sport hockey has kind of a peculiar reputation. For a long time, the hockey sticks were considered as weapons in a fight, rather than the gear for a sport.
The situation though, has now improved. As talented players started to make their name and improve Bangladesh's position in the global arena, people started to take notice. One of those players is Mamunur Rahman Chayan.
Chayan started his journey in hockey at the age of 13 in 2000 at BKSP, the home of many Bangladesh legends across many sports. He grew up with the likes of cricketer Mushfiqur Rahim and shooter Abdullah Hel Baki and got into the national team in 2006, in the Asian Games qualifier.
Chayan, a defender by trade, went on to represent Bangladesh for 12 years and captained the side for more than five years, before finally retiring in 2018. For Chayan, it was great when it lasted and he cherishes those memories.
"It was a great experience because every player has the dream of playing for the national side, representing Bangladesh. Not everyone can do it but I was lucky that I got the opportunity," Chayan said.
The defender retired at the age of 30, which is deemed to be early for someone who was at the top of his game. But Chayan had his reasons. He wanted to give his family more time and after achieving his goal, he decided to hang up his boots.
"I have a target for everything. My favourite player in the national team was (Isa) Musa bhai. He had played the most Asian Games for Bangladesh. So I had set the target of equalling Musa bhai's record. Playing four Asian Games is a very tough job as a hockey player. So, before the 2018 Asian Games, which would be my fourth, I realised that I did not spend enough time with my family; my child missed me a lot as I had to be away from them for national team responsibilities. I was busy for 7-8 months in a year with the national team, and I could only see my child grow up through my phone. So, I took the decision of retiring after the Asian Games as that would already make me the only player other than Musa bhai to have played four Asian Games," the 32-year-old said.
Chayan continued to play in the domestic arena after quitting the internationals and unsurprisingly, he misses the national team. But he has no regrets as he is proud that he was the Bangladesh skipper at some point.
"Definitely I miss it. Because it is the dream of anyone to represent Bangladesh and to captain the side is an even bigger achievement. I led the side for 5-6 years. I am fond of those memories; that at some point of my life I was the skipper of Bangladesh," he said.
Despite being a defender, Chayan has scored eight international hattricks - a quite spectacular achievement. He was considered a penalty corner specialist, converting almost 40-50% of the penalty corner opportunities.
His success in penalty corners was a mix of talent and perseverance. He had a knack for it but Chayan did not just rely on that, he worked hard at BKSP to become the expert he was.
"I am the first penalty corner specialist in Bangladesh. The secret to my success is hard work and sacrifice. My penalty corner coach was Mamunur Rashid, who is the current coach of Bangladesh team. He always said to me that either I have to be great or bad, I cannot be average. So he told me in 2002 that there was no penalty corner specialist in Bangladesh and I would do well if I tried. I have natural shot power, which helped me in this case. So he arranged two additional sessions for me and that hard work helped me to become a penalty corner specialist," Chayan explained.
Despite Bangladesh being ahead in hockey over football, hockey is less popular. Chayan says the reason behind this is the lack of grounds, as the whole country has only four hockey turfs.
"We have only four hockey fields in Bangladesh, whereas India has hundreds. But if grounds can be built in at least every division, I think hockey might turn out to be the second most popular sport in Bangladesh after cricket," Chayan informed.
He added that the lack of grounds was also a barrier to young players getting into the sport, alongside the cost of hockey gears.
"The biggest struggle is the lack of hockey turfs and the price of the instruments are a little high; the full gear almost costs tk 10-15 thousand. Our federation is trying to improve this situation at the grassroots level and has been helping out now. The popularity is increasing," Chayan added.
Bangladesh are yet to compete in the Hockey World Cup. But Chayan believes that with proper steps over the next few years, Bangladesh can compete in the World Cup within five years.
"If proper steps are taken, I believe that we can play the World Cup in the next few years, maybe 4-5 years. I am saying this because we have already beaten China who were ranked 19th at the time. If we can beat them, then we have the ability of being in the top 16. If the federation arranges camps for the players, home and away, then it is very much possible," the former national team skipper believed.
After retiring from the national side, Chayan has his focus now on his domestic career. At the age of 32, the Faridpur-born has no plans of coaching for now but is ready to train some penalty corner specialists for the future, if the board is willing to hand him the responsibility.
"I don't have any plans for coaching for now. When I was in the side, there was a competition among 4-5 players for the penalty corners. I believe the harder the competition, the better the players are. So, if the federation is willing, I can take the responsibility of coaching age level players on penalty corners in the future," Chayan, who is currently a Chief Petty Officer at Bangladesh Navy, added.