‘It cannot go on like this anymore’
In her field, Bangladesh's table tennis icon Zobera Rahman Linu remained a cut above the rest during her stellar 24-year playing career between 1977 to 2001, having bagged a whopping 16 national titles from 1977 to 2001. However, her trajectory from being a celebrated sportsperson to being a woman in power has not manifested as predicted. The chairperson of the Bangladesh Olympic Association's (BOA) athlete commission spoke with Sabbir Hossain of The Daily Star in an exclusive interview, where the Guinness Record-holder addressed the issues that have been hindering the evolution of the women's game in the country. The excerpts of the interview are as follows:
The Daily Star (DS): Having been associated with sports for almost 50 years, do you think the number of women arriving into sports in Bangladesh have met expectations?
Zobera Rahman Linu (ZRL): Women are participating increasingly in cricket, football and other outdoor sports, which was inconceivable just 15 years ago. Still, although the situation has improved in comparison, women are not flocking to sports as expected.
Financial security is the key to freedom as the majority of female athletes come from lower middle-class families. If we can assure financial security, women from upper-class families will swarm into sports as well.
As the circumstances do not provide the needed economic self-sufficiency, the desired number of women from well-to-do families are not coming here. Therefore, even after so many years since Bangladesh's independence, women have not come forward to the extent they were supposed to.
DS: How do you think the public attention can be increased so that women's sports garner a greater exposure?
ZRL: People will know more about female athletes when there are tournaments, so tournaments should be held more frequently. It often happens that women sportspeople remain idle for months on end.
Moreover, when we open the newspaper, we only see the news of cricket. This mentality of only promoting cricket should be changed. We should ensure publicity for other sporting events too.
DS: As one of the country's sporting legends, you have observed how the administration operates to a large extent. Could you tell us what has been your realisation in recent times?
ZRL: Dirty politics and discord among members can be seen within numerous federations. Also, many organisers do not have a positive relationship with athletes.
The country has 52 sports federations and associations, but what is the percentage of women in various positions? There are no women in positions of power. They are denied the opportunity, and it has even been said that 'women cannot' [when it comes to operating at top positions in federations].
I was the [Bangladesh] Table Tennis Federation's (BTTF) general secretary for just a few months before being forced out by a hastily scheduled election. There was a plot against me. Also, I was a member of the [Bangladesh] Cycling Federation (BCF) but its election was held without my knowledge. It cannot go on like this anymore.