How football reignited Argentina-Bangladesh ties – The Diplomat

Bangladeshi fans of Argentina celebrate in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after the World Cup semi-final match between Argentina and Croatia in Qatar, Wednesday December 14, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu ad

During the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships, a 19-year-old American player named Glenn Cowan accidentally boarded a shuttle bus transporting the red-robed Chinese national team. The team’s star player, Zhuang Zedong, approached Cowan to shake his hand, talk to him through an interpreter and give him a gift. Later, the US team received a sweeping invitation to visit China from Mao Zedong, the People’s Republic’s founding leader, in what became known as “ping-pong diplomacy.” The United States lifted its embargo on China on June 10, 1971, followed by the opening of relations between the two countries through ping-pong diplomacy.

That same year, Bangladesh, a brand new nation, debuted on the world stage after a nine-month war of independence. Ever since the country was founded, Bangladesh has adhered to the motto “friendship with all, malice with none” and participates in various multilateral forums. Dhaka would like to establish friendly bilateral relations with countries ranging from Asia to Europe to America.

Right from the start, Bangladesh found a friend in Argentina. Victoria Ocampo, Jorge Luis Bergs, Reverend Father Ismael Quiles and other prominent intellectuals, scholars, artists, lawyers and authors inspired and guided the intelligentsia of Argentina and Venezuela to denounce the brutal actions of Pakistan and to seek aid for war refugees during the turbulent months of the war Bangladesh Liberation War. The opening of a diplomatic mission in Argentina in 1972 marked the beginning of official diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Argentina.

But the golden age ended abruptly in 1978 when Argentina closed its embassy in Dhaka. Bangladeshi nationals are required to travel to New Delhi, India to obtain Argentine visas as the Argentine embassy there also handles relations with Bangladesh.

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Aside from the official visit of former Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mohamed Mijarul Quayes to Argentina in 2011 and the trip to Dhaka of Argentina’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Claudio Javier Rozencwaig and Argentina’s Ambassador to India, there have been few notable developments since then and Bangladesh, Hugo Gobbi, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.

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However, the Bangladesh public includes many ardent fans of the Argentina national football team, which attracted a lot of media attention during the FIFA World Cup in December 2022. The setting up of giant screens in various locations across the country to watch Messi-led Argentina’s renaissance and the thousands of fans who gathered to celebrate every goal and triumph of their favorite team caught everyone’s attention, from FIFA to the Argentine Football Federation and also their citizens.

Immediately after the final whistle of the World Cup final between Argentina and France, Argentinian Bangladeshi fans of all ages and walks of life took to the streets and began raising the flags of their beloved adopted country. Almost every corner of the country was the scene of victory marches after Argentina’s final triumph.

Argentina, in turn, expressed their love and respect for the Bangladeshis. The Argentine Football Federation has already expressed its gratitude to the people of Bangladesh for their unconditional support. Some Argentinian journalists began tweeting in Bengali in support of the Bangladesh cricket team after their recent triumph against India in a bilateral ODI series.

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Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero also tweeted that his country was planning to reopen the Argentine embassy in Dhaka. He cited increased trade and a shared interest in getting involved in a range of areas, including sport. Cafiero is expected to travel to Dhaka in March 2023 to oversee the reopening of the embassy.

The common appreciation and mutual respect between Argentina and Bangladesh could be just the beginning to explore new possibilities for bilateral relations. The two countries have only scratched the surface of the full potential of their evolving relationship. Argentina exported $450 million worth of goods to Bangladesh in 2020; that rose to $791 million in fiscal 2021-2022. Wheat, soybean meal and soybean oil were Argentina’s most important exports to Bangladesh. With the world facing a difficult period of rising prices and global inflation, Argentina could be a potential alternative market for Bangladesh.

In contrast, Bangladesh sold $17.3 million worth of goods to Argentina in 2020. Bangladesh’s exports to Argentina have grown at an annual rate of 6.46 percent for the past 25 years from a low baseline of US$3.61 million in 1995. Knit sweaters, knit T-shirts, and non-knit men’s suits have been the main exports from Bangladesh to Argentina. The ready-to-wear industry contributed more than 88 percent to exports in fiscal year 2021-22.

According to a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), on November 24, 2026, Bangladesh will be promoted from the category “least developed country” (LDC) to the category “developing country”. Thereafter, Bangladesh will face new challenges as it will gradually lose the privileges, quotas and rights associated with being underdeveloped. Argentina could be a potential market for Bangladesh if it wants to diversify its apparel industry. Argentina could also import world-class goods from Bangladesh at lower costs, such as ceramics, melamine, ships and pharmaceuticals. In addition, the decision on the visa waiver agreement for Bangladeshi diplomats and government officials of Bangladesh and Argentina may be reassessed.

Despite the difference between 1970s ping-pong diplomacy and 21st-century football diplomacy between Bangladesh and Argentina, grass-roots cooperation was key to reviving state-level contacts in both cases. The road to a bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Argentina has been re-trodden by face-to-face exchanges, the media revolution and sports diplomacy.