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Can cricket emerge in Vietnam?

26th December, 2013
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26th December, 2013
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Spend time in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and it is evident that the Southeast Asian country is a paradox.

For the uninitiated traveller, the bureaucratic tedium of obtaining a travel visa is a reminder that Vietnam is one of the last bastions of communism in the world.

Free press is an afterthought with Vietnam’s one-party governance, and Facebook is also banned.

In Hanoi, the country’s capital located in the north, police evict patrons of bars and nightspots at midnight, while only a few hours later, one’s hangover is exacerbated by the blaring of propaganda reverberating in the streets.

This is juxtaposed by the more western-influenced Ho Chi Minh City, the southern locale with a populace of about 10 million.

Ho Chi Minh City, named Saigon before reunification in 1976, could be mistaken for any other 24-hour bustling metropolis in the region, complete with a plethora of shopping malls, entertainment haunts and tourist traps.

Amid this conflicted cultural and political backdrop, cricket hopes to emerge.

The bat and ball British game had been dormant until the Vietnam Cricket Association (VCA) was established by expatriates in 2005.

Apparently, cricket was played in the mid-20th century but, more realistically, that is probably an urban legend among the Vietnamese cricketing fraternity.

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Outside of traditional-playing countries, cricket has started to flourish in non-British colonial areas due to the boon of the T20 format, notably in Eastern Europe where the game is thriving in unlikely places including Estonia and Serbia.

Contrary, Vietnamese cricket development has been arduous, as the sport continually struggles to shed its obscurity.

Only one local player is believed to have played in the VCA’s league since formation. Cricket’s invisibility is compounded by not being granted publicity in the Government-controlled media, because it is not recognised as an official sport by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

No dedicated cricket ground exists in Vietnam, thus relegating matches onto the football turf at the RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City.

Whether cricket can ever infiltrate into the Vietnamese sports culture is dubious but VCA president Munish Gupta says fostering the game among expatriates is the short-term focus in a bid to keep cricket’s flame flickering.

“We have played with seven teams for the past five years and play t20 cricket,” Gupta explains.

“We have 120 members and we hope to build on that, especially with more Indians and Australians now working in Ho Chi Minh City. It is really hard to develop cricket, because the public don’t know anything about it. We are way behind countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, who were influenced by the British. Some Vietnamese watch us play but they don’t understand what we’re doing. We are hoping that eventually curiosity gets the better of some of them and they will want to participate.”

Gupta says the VCA is in a continual financial fight, dealing with the monetary scourge common for minority sports globally. He is hopeful the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) will soon grant Vietnam affiliate membership, helping ease the financial burden.

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“To become an ACC affiliate, we need a ground, local people to play and for the government to recognise us,” Gupta explains.

“We have to pay the government US$20,000 to be deemed an official sport. We don’t have the money, as we are self-funded and rely on a few sponsors. It is expensive to play cricket here. We pay US$600 for the ground fee every Sunday during the six-month season.”

While Vietnam does not boast a national team, international cricket has ventured to Ho Chi Minh City the past three years with the Saigon Sixes tournament featuring teams from various Asian countries.

There is also hope that cricket will be recognised by the ACC in time for the Asian Games, a multi-sport event recognised by the International Olympic Committee and held every four years, in Vietnam in 2019.

“Many things are controlled by the government here and it’s hard to do much about that,” Gupta says.

“But the ideologies are changing. Websites are not being blocked as prevalent as before. Facebook was not working for a while but now it has widespread appeal and the government is not controlling the Internet. Capitalism is being embraced. Who knows, maybe cricket will one day be embraced too.”

Facebook, capitalism and cricket. As the old idiom goes, all good things come in threes.