Allegations surface of sexual harassment on female athlete
12:00 AM, November 27, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 27, 2018

Threatened by an abusive culture

The alleged sexual assault of an under-age female weightlifter sent shockwaves through the country's sports fraternity yesterday. Bengali daily Kaler Kantho revealed that a 17-year-old weightlifter was admitted to a mental hospital on October 23 because of mental trauma suffered in the aftermath of the alleged assault.

The maternal uncle of the female weightlifter -- who has won gold in club competition in 2015 and was also part of the Bangladesh preliminary squad in 2016 -- alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Bangladesh Weightlifting Federation's (BWF's) office assistant Shohag Ali with the help of National Sports Council (NSC) staff member Abdul Malek and Unnoti (a female weightlifter) on September 13 at the NSC tower. The uncle did not want to disclose his name for fear of the social stigma associated with such allegations. 

Shohag's mobile phone was switched off and he could not be reached for comment. Malek, meanwhile, told The Daily Star that he had no knowledge of such an incident. No one at the federation could come up with Unnoti's contact information.

“This incident happened on September 13 and since then she has been troubled mentally, which we did not understand until she talked about this with a sister-in-law [wife of first cousin]. Her mother then talked to Shohag and pressured him to marry her daughter but Shohag demanded Tk 7 lakh for marriage. She [the weightlifter] was admitted to a mental hospital on October 23 and is a bit better now, but is not talking to anyone,” the uncle told The Daily Star yesterday.

“We did not file any case against Shohag because of financial constraints. Fearing the social stigma, we did not even opt for a forensic test. She chose a career in sports to improve her and her family's financial situation.”

However, the alleged victim's uncle lodged a complaint with the BWF against Shohag on Sunday, seeking proper justice for the alleged sexual assault on his niece.   

It is not the first time that allegations of sexual harassment and assault on women athletes have surfaced; it has reached an alarming stage with no punitive actions taken against any accused till today. 

BWF vice president Mohyuddin Ahmed informed that they formed a three-member probe committee to look into the alleged incident and they are determined to take punitive measures if it indeed took place. He added that office assistant Shohag has been suspended after the complaint was filed by the uncle.

Member-secretary of the probe committee Hasan Iman said: “We will try to unearth the truth because it is an alarming omen for Bangladesh sport. I have a daughter, so I also have a responsibly to ensure a female-friendly sports environment in Bangladesh.”

NSC, the country's sports regulatory body, are also mulling the formation of their own probe committee.  

“We will take internal administrative measures and start an investigation, and also see what measures the BWF are taking,” said NSC secretary Masud Karim.

National Sports Award winner and prominent sports organiser Qumrunnahar Dana, along with former weightlifter and current coach Shahria Sultan Suchi, have been heavily critical of the prevailing culture.

“A lot of female athletes have been involved in the country's sports scene since the 1950s; I was also involved in the 1970s but never faced such incidents because at that time the organisers and officials educated, which is not the case now.

“Many female athletes come from under-privileged families, which often means that because of a lack of social standing they do not have any recourse against such incidents,” said Dana. She also said that women representatives should make up 30 per cent of the executive committees of all national federations as per the International Olympics Committee charter.

“I want proper investigation and punitive measures. These things are happening because there is very little involvement of women in sports administration. I have seen male trainers who are much more eager to train women athletes than male ones,” said coach Suchi.

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