“A positive mentality has been instilled in society”
Before calling the time in 2002, famous sportswoman Zobera Rahman Linu won the National Women’s Table Tennis Championship for a record 16 times. And later, in addition to working as General Secretary of the Bangladesh Table Tennis Federation for a term, she was Vice President of the Bangladesh Cycling Federation. Linu, who is now chair of the Bangladesh Olympic Association’s Athletes’ Commission, expressed her perspective to Anisur Rahman of the Daily Star on the state of sports in the country while addressing the lingering organizational limitations.
The Daily Star (DS): What do you think of Bangladesh’s sporting progress over the past 50 years?
Zobera Rahman Linu (ZRL): During this period, the progression in the sport was not as important as expected although some areas of the country have improved. In sports, especially in women’s sports, I think cricket, football and archery have flourished a bit compared to other disciplines.
DS: Why has the country’s sport lagged behind other sectors?
ZRL: I think the organizers have to bear a certain weight of failure to move the country’s sports forward and at the same time the athletes could not shine. Although I have to admit, a few federations have started to prepare players from the ground up, but most federations are out of such action. Another point, athletes tend to come from insolvent families and prioritize basic financial security first, so their goal is split into producing neither good performance nor good income. If the athletes were paid handsome salaries, they could have produced dignified performances with undisputed attention from the game.
DS: While the federations themselves struggle to manage their annual activities, how can the financial security of the athletes be ensured in order to obtain maximum return from them?
ZRL: This responsibility does not fall only on the federations. On the contrary, I think the government should be condescending to the athletes who are doing extremely well and showing great potential for the nation. And sponsors, who have a social responsibility to advance the country’s sports, typically swarm around big games like cricket and soccer, and pay little attention to the less popular. The government could also attract sponsors by exempting taxes and VAT so that they invest more.
DS: Could you compare the restrictions between your playing time with the current one?
ZRL: I entered the sport without encountering any type of obstacles because our family was focused on sport and my father also played sports. However, most athletes faced some restrictions at this time. Despite the limitations, there was no big financial hurdle which is now the big hurdle for the current crop of athletes. If they cannot get out of financial trouble by playing sports, then high expectations on their part are not justified.
DS: But do you mean that there are currently no restrictions on the part of society and the family to play sports?
ZRL: Women now play football apart from athletics, swimming, handball, etc. This means that a positive mindset has been instilled in society, but the uncertain future and financial inconsistency are hampering women athletes.
DS: How about the physical harassment that women athletes often face?
ZRL: Well, it depends on the individual and such things are not exclusive to sport as it happens in other areas including educational training centers. I think a female athlete needs to learn to protect herself because most women come from needy families and feel shy when such things happen to them. If the athletes come from a solvent family, they would dare to protest.
However, I think the federations could take initiatives to sensitize women’s rights organizations to any problematic situation as well as take athletes’ complaints seriously to nip things in the bud.
DS: Does the federation offer adequate facilities to facilitate the growth of players?
ZRL: From my experience working at the Bangladesh Table Tennis Federation and the Bangladesh Cycling Federation, I think the federations try to provide the proper facilities for the well-being of the athletes, but they cannot accomplish due to financial constraints. A federation finds it difficult to complete its annual campaign while supporting office expenses within its budget, and therefore cannot design special training programs for athletes in the absence of sponsors.
DS: Where do you want to see your country’s sports in the future?
ZRL: Of course, I want to see the country’s sports reach greater heights internationally and locally. To put Bangladesh sport in the right direction, we need to be visionary and set long term goals, in which we need to target SA first. [South Asian] Games, then the Asian Games and the Olympic Games, because we are far behind at the international level. If we are to produce good results at the SA Games, we have to organize long-term uninterrupted training and of course the Ministry of Youth and Sports will have to help on all fronts.