TIME Bangladesh

You’ll Never Guess Where Some of the Most Fanatical Fans of the Argentina and Brazil Soccer Teams Can be Found

Bangladesh Soccer WCup
A.M. Ahad—AP A man examines a T-shirt in the style of Brazil's national soccer team, being offered by a street vendor in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 1, 2014

Hint: it's a long way from South America

Correction appended, June 20, 2014

On June 7, groups of Argentina and Brazil fans clashed over the World Cup — but not on the streets of Rio or in a sports bar in Buenos Aires. Instead, the unlikely location was Barisal, which is not — as it vaguely sounds — some upcountry Amazon backwater. It’s a port city of some 270,000 souls on the Kirtankhola River in Bangladesh. And the fans were Bangladeshi.

The trouble began when a Brazil fan, called Mahmud Hasan, was sitting in the dining room of the Barisal Polytechnic Institute and began chanting that the infamous 1986 “Hand of God” goal against England scored by Argentine star player Diego Maradona’s was “illegal.” Argentina fans sitting nearby took umbrage — and the subsequent clash injured 11.

Then, on June 18, in the town of Hatibandha in Bangladesh’s far north, an 18-year-old restaurant worker, Milon Hossain, was killed when rival groups of Argentina and Brazil fans began hurling stones at each other.

Bangladesh is a country in the grip of World Cup madness — and the two South American giants are luring fanatical levels of support.

The flags of Argentina and Brazil are flying everywhere. Local authorities in the western town of Jessore have gotten nationalist angst over the sight of so many foreign flags and tried to ban them, but in vain.

“We don’t mind people wearing jerseys of their favourite teams or [using] billboards or banners,” Mustafizur Rahman, a government administrator, told AFP. “But it does not look good when flags of foreign nations are flying on your rooftops. We have become a nation of Argentina and Brazil.”

The danger isn’t just limited to outbreaks of violence. In the capital Dhaka, at least three enthusiasts have died hanging Argentina flags from the city’s precarious electric wiring. They were later dubbed “World Cup martyrs” by the local press.

Ifty Mahmud, a journalist at Bangladesh’s largest daily newspaper, the Prothom Alo, says support for Brazil is rooted in Bangladeshi poverty. The Brazil team also “looks like us,” explains Ifty, “just see Pelé, Romário and Neymar, they are dark-skinned so are we, [Brazil] are poor, so are we.”

Support for Argentina, meanwhile, has an “anticolonial character, because Maradona beat the English,” the country’s former colonial ruler. “Beckham is not popular here.” Maradona meanwhile, “is crazy, Bangladeshis love crazy people!”

“The way he cheated the colonial power, because it was daylight cheating, had symbolic resonance,” concurs Abu Ahasan, a researcher and anthropologist at BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, though these days it is known solely by the acronym). “The same thing happened with Muhammad Ali and the West Indies cricket team; it captured the imagination.”

The Argentina team, perhaps aware of their huge support base in Bangladesh, made a rare visit to the country in September 2011 playing Nigeria in a friendly match at Bangladesh’s packed national stadium. Current Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi shimmied his way into the nation’s affections, and giant screens were erected around the city for fans who could not get tickets.

Such is the fanaticism for the two South American teams that members of an E.U. mission have been trying to understand why European teams aren’t more popular. Despite the game being introduced in the country by the British, its mournful memo pointed out, “there are hardly any visible England flags on the streets.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of a journalist. He is Ifty Mahmud, not Ifty Islam.

TIME Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, Charging of Garment Factory Owner Spurs Hope of New Era of Accountability

STR / AFP / Getty Images The owner of Tazreen Fashions, Delwar Hossain (C) is escorted to court in Dhaka on Feb. 9, 2014.

The Tazreen factory fire claimed at least 112 lives in November 2012, and thanks to international pressure the building's owner is finally behind bars awaiting trial

A Bangladeshi judge made history Sunday. For the first time, formal charges have been brought against the owner of a garment factory where workers have died. At least 112 people perished in November 2012 when the Tazreen Factory on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka burned to the ground. Western brands such as Walmart and Disney were amongst those sourcing clothes there.

That Tazreen’s owner, Delwar Hossain, is now behind bars awaiting trial is being treated as a milestone for the Bangladeshi export industry. “The name of the owner is on the charge sheet for the first time as a criminal, the state has managed to recognize that this is not oversight, but this is as an issue of criminal actions,” said Saydia Gulrukh, an academic who has fought tirelessly to see Hossain face his accusers in court.

Memories of that fateful day remain seared into the minds of survivors, most of who have yet to receive any compensation. “We ran from one stair to another stairwell to get out but authorities had already closed those two exit points,” says Mahfuza, an operator working in the factory when the fire broke out. The 20-year-old says she was filling an order for Walmart on the day of the blaze, and was forced to jump from the fourth floor because of the lack of exits.

Local police initially brought charges against Hossain in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, but these were mysteriously dropped. “He was getting some kind of support, so formally nothing came out against him,” said Humayun Kabir a former Bangladeshi ambassador to the U.S. This was despite a Home Ministry report soon after the fire acknowledging Hossain had acted with “criminal negligence.”

However, changing international attitudes to the global garments industry mean that once-powerful figures like Hossain can no long act with impunity. The Tazreen tragedy and the even deadlier Rana Plaza collapse spurred the U.S. to suspend the limited Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) duty free access Bangladesh enjoyed in response to the lax safety standards.

“International pressure definitely influenced [the case],” says Gulrukh. The E.U. had also threatened to revoke its equivalent allowance, deemed a vital boon to the $22 billion industry.

Bangladesh and the U.S. are scheduled to hold a meeting on restoring the GSP in May, which was postponed from December. “The government now wants to show that it is taking some action for the simple reason that by December the hearing for the GSP was supposed to take place,” notes Kabir.

Hossain surrendered to a court on Sunday to face charges of causing death by negligence after a warrant for his arrest had been produced on Dec. 31. His bail plea was rejected and 14 months after the fire he has finally been remanded in custody.

Hossain, “had managed to sidestep the legal process for 14 months, there was always someone helping from the inside, that’s how things happen,” says Gulrukh, who says many victims doubted this day would ever come. “Now workers believe its possible to hold owners to account, this restores some faith in the system.”

When Hossain’s bail plea was heard, he and his colleagues brought along the t-shirts that one of the company’s remaining factories are making, for the 2014 FIFA world cup, to emphasize the importance of the industry to the country. For the first time, however, it seems the lives of those lost have been placed above the profits their toil yields.

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