The evergreen Linu
Zobera Rahman Linu is a unique example for Bangladeshi sportswomen, having won 16 national table tennis titles in an illustrious career spanning three decades. She is also the only Bangladeshi citizen to have her name in the Guinness Book of World Record for this outstanding achievement. Also a three-time national cycling champion, Linu has won all sorts of prizes including the National Award in 1999. In the international scene, she finished fifth in Asian Table Tennis Championship in Kolkata in 1980 and runner-up in the Pentangular TT Championship in Hyderabad, India two years later. Now an organiser, Linu was selected as UNICEF's goodwill ambassador.
I started playing table tennis at the age of eight at the Shahjibazar Power Station Officers' Club. My father, an ex-member of Power Development Board, was posted as manager of the station in Sylhet. It was his inspiration that encouraged me to take a table tennis bat in hand and next year, I was competing with the big girls. My first competition was in 1974 at the Dhaka Press Club Open Table tennis Championship and I lost games only to my eldest sister, Munira Rahman Helen, who became champion. I was delighted to finish runner-up and there was no stopping for me since then. Three years later, I was the national champion at the age of 12. Not only that, I clinched triple crown on way to a record 16 national championship titles that led to my place in the Guinness Book of World Record for a unique performance in domestic table tennis competitions in the whole world.
When I started, Dila, Bithi and Helen were big names. I had to exchange titles with Dila a few times but cannot really single out an opposition who really troubled me. In the early 90s, Julekha emerged as the new champion but I always managed to regain my position as the top paddler in the country. My last title came in 2001 and I felt the competition was intense. I was also ageing and it needed strenuous physical exercises to keep myself fit. That was the time when I decided to quit.
It was not easy to choose table tennis because I was also a champion cyclist. I won three consecutive national titles in cycling from 1978-80. But I came to realise that I would need huge stamina to continue with both games at top level. Also, there was lack of facilities for cycling, like practice venues and I thought it would be a bit risky for a girl in her adolescences. As a homely girl I felt more comfortable with indoor games and table tennis, which attracted me more, matched with my personality. So the passion grew into obsession and I continued playing. I could not realise that I have come this far even after playing for three decades. I kept going on because I never had to think about a living. I never took education seriously but completed my Master's degree. I was very serious about being on top and had the willpower that drove me. I also worked hard. Our present-day players think about money and don't have the passion for the game. I don't blame them because most of them do not have the financial backup I had. I can name at least ten table tennis players who have Master's degree but don't have a job. It's really difficult to survive. Yes, we are deprived. In my 30-year career, all I have got were pocket-money. When I was on the Guinness Book, the table tennis federation and Mariners Club gave me accolades but government did not bother to give any kind of recognition to a girl who earned an honour for the country with her long service. But I will never forget the way fans, friends and well-wishers including media showed respect to me.
Although I have been very successful in domestic scene, the failure to make a mark in even regional competitions really bothers me. We have skill but we are far behind in strength and stamina from our neighbours. We will compete in the SA Games in March but we have yet to start preparation. The players are also not serious. They sit idly for competitions to come. This is not a player should be preparing. In our time, there were at least a tournament every month but now it has been reduced to four or five a year. The federation has simply failed to organise tournaments due to lack of fund.
For women athletes in our country, the main barrier is their own family. Parents don't want to take risk sending their daughters to go for sports because they think that the surrounding is polluted. I can proudly announce that the sports environment is much better than other sectors. Have you ever heard of more scandals in sports than education or cultural sectors? Some parents also have a primitive idea that sportswomen don't have pretty faces. They fail to realise that one can keep her charms and morality if she wants to. It totally depends on oneself and the real beauty lies in work, not in the face. Thirdly, every family wants some output. They don't encourage their children to get involved into sports because they think it would not be a good career.
Sponsors also chase big games like cricket and football. But if they extended their helping hands to the small games, things would have been different. If one company sponsors three players, the small games could survive. As an organiser, my target now is to improve this situation for the players and make them self-dependent. Also, what I did not get from officials as a player, I want to provide for the youngsters now. But there is a generation gap and present-day players feel that organisers can't do anything without them. We had the pride but never used it to get through to the organisers. This attitude should be changed.
After all these years, I don't find any special moments in my career. I have won awards, I have become a goodwill ambassador of the UNICEF recently, but I feel proud to think that I am a sportswoman. I have no regrets in my life because sports have brought me this far. Today's Linu belongs to sports and it is what I always wanted to be. This is my greatest achievement in my life.
LATE NIGHT SUSPENSE: The man in charge pokes a paster in his eyes who in turn retaliates by chasing the boss with a sharp anticutter. Everyone runs for cover. Everyone’s hot in the heat of night.