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Dhaka Tribune

Mabia: Bangladesh weightlifters are like caged animals in a zoo

Mabia Akter Simanta gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune after setting a new national record at the latest edition of the National Weightlifting Championship 

Update : 25 Aug 2023, 11:30 PM

Mabia Akter Simanta is the only weightlifter from Bangladesh to win two gold medals at the South Asian Games. Prior to that, she bagged gold in youth category at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship. Since 2014, she has been reigning supreme in her weight category in the national competitions. The 23-year old gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune after setting a new national record at the latest edition of the National Weightlifting Championship. Below are the excerpts:  

What are your thoughts on breaking your own national record several times? 

There is no player to catch me in my weight category. I want my domination to stay like this. If you talk about regret, I want someone to come because if nobody challenges me I wouldn’t run faster. I’m alone here but for how long? The records I set have become even difficult for me to break. I want my records to survive for a long time so that the newcomers would have to think five times before participating in my weight category. 

Why did you cry on the podium after winning gold at the 2016 SA Games?

I can’t explain why I cried. Maybe because it happened after six years of my dedication. If I ask myself now, I can’t get an answer. It was my achievement and my name was announced. There was the national anthem playing and I was wearing the national flag. I think emotion came out just naturally.

Who did you think of at that time?

Nobody initially but then I thought about the coaches who guided me and the support of the federation. I also remembered my parents for their compromise when they let me out on the streets at the age of only 11 and a half years. The streets were unsafe. Nobody couldn’t guarantee that even the sports arena was safe. So it was a reply to all that I can achieve things. 

How did you cherish the memory later?

I still remember the moments from 2016 because I never had to look back after that feat. It was my best result. I was reborn from that day onwards with a new identity. I was born on October 7, 1999 but I was reborn on February 7, 2016. I celebrate both days.

You also won gold at Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship just the previous year…

This is why the Olympic association permitted more weightlifters to participate in the SA Games. Initially there were only four weightlifters in the SAG camp but later the number increased to 14 because of my success at the Commonwealth competition.

How was the reaction of your parents after you became South Asia’s best?

I didn’t call my parents. Our coach Faruk Ahmed Sarker informed my uncle [Kazi Shahadat Hossain] over phone. My uncle brought me to weightlifting depending on coach Faruk. My uncle informed this to my parents. I called my parents at night when I returned to hotel room. My father saw my name on TV headlines that I won gold. I’m not sure about their reaction because they lacked idea on sports. 

Also Read: How Mabia tackled racism, bullying to become weightlifting star

Tell us about the reaction of your other family members…

I don’t have a good academic background. The color of my skin was black. My height was also short when I started weightlifting at the age of 11 and a half years. As I was black, my relatives used to tell my parents that they would struggle to arrange marriage for me. They thought that nobody would marry me because of my skin. They wondered what would happen to me. I got punished often because I was not an obedient kid. Now I laugh when I think of those moments. But my mother always believed in me and told my relatives that I would shine. I don’t know how she predicted this. My sister also supported me and cared a lot. I think it is because of my parents and sister that I have been able to achieve things.

So you heard racist words in your childhood…

My skin color was black and I studied very little. My family wasn’t earning much when I started off weightlifting. People will bully you until you prove yourself. When you prove yourself the best, 10 people would stand beside you. If you can’t, there would be nobody. 

What about your friends and neighbors?

Actually, I barely have any friends. When I came to weightlifting there were only senior players so there were no friends here but now there is one, maybe two. So I didn’t suffer bullying from friends. But when I was moving on the streets, stupid boys in and outside the neighborhood used to ridicule me. They mocked my dress. They also bullied me for leaving home at dawn and returning at night. They suspected I was with bad company. My father also used to hear those words a lot but he encouraged me and my uncle gave me protection. In the sports arena, which is not secured enough, I grew up in the safest zone because of my uncle. I always thought I can only reply to the bullying by being successful. I think I gave the reply in 2016 by proving who I am and my skin color and academic background have not been an issue since then. 

How have things changed since 2016?

Everyone became silent. I trained at Army Stadium for three years after that. I used to get out early in the morning and people of the neighborhood called CNG auto/transport for me. They also noted the number of the vehicle and sent it to my father. Now when I win something, they come to my house with sweets, fruits, milk, among other things. They now act like my guardians. If they did it earlier, perhaps I would have tasted success sooner. As for my financial condition, I struggled to manage three meals a day in the past but now I can afford meat too. 

Your story can be an inspiration for other girls who pursue a career in sports and face the same dilemma…

Not all guardians are courageous like my parents. The girls also need to be confident. I still have to face many unnecessary comments while walking on the streets. If I can’t keep faith on myself, I would fail. Those who uphold the confidence are the gainers. If you don’t have the confidence and sit at home you wouldn’t get success. But family support is very important.

 

Did your parents want you to have a career in weightlifting?

They have no idea about weightlifting or boxing. Sometimes they used to watch cricket and football on TV but not much. My brother played cricket and wanted to be a cricketer but the family couldn’t provide opportunity due to financial limitation. So my parents also didn’t want me to be in sports. It was beyond imagination. I didn’t like studying. I didn’t want to get admitted to school. Then one day, my mother punished me physically. I was crying and my uncle happened to be there. My uncle wanted me to try my luck in sports and my mother was like, “Please, take her away.” He took me to weightlifting gym the next morning. I carried on for weeks but didn’t like it because there was a lot of noise. My uncle convinced me that this is my chance to do something in life. I also wanted to be a celebrity. It was boring at the beginning but later it became an addiction. It got mixed with my blood and I can’t spend days without weightlifting. It has become a passion.

What was your first achievement?

In 2011, I participated in the club championship representing the club of my uncle named Sipahibagh Jubo Sangha Club. I finished second. There were many spectators around when I took to the stage. I was shy because there were comments about my costume. But I became happy when I won a medal and earned some money. 

Who are your mentors?

I’m grateful to my coach Shahria Sultana Shuchi. She taught me the game. It is because of her I am what I am today. I’m also grateful to coach Faruk without whom my uncle wouldn’t have brought me here. I also express gratitude to weightlifting federation’s vice-president Mahiuddin Ahmed. If these four people had not patronized me, I would not have been reborn. They always kept faith in me from the very beginning. 

If you look back now, how much has life changed?

It’s like a fairytale of Cinderella and I’m the princess of this fairytale. I have no prince but my palace is my father and mother. Federation, coaches and my uncle changed my life. I turned from low class to middle class. My reputation has been enhanced. The family still celebrates on February 7, the day I won SA Games gold in 2016. We cut a cake and my father and sister give me gifts. 

How did those racist words and bullying affect you?

One day, I skipped training and stayed home. My father told me I have to prove whether I’m good or bad through sports. He insisted me to prove those people wrong. My uncle said the same. Then, I thought I should work more to clear my “bad” image. After that, the contumacy, sadness and anger all started together from there.

Was there any social obstacle?

The bad comments I had to hear were one kind of social obstacle. My story would have ended even before it began if I had sat back home after copping those words. I didn’t sit back. That’s why they weren’t successful. 

You often criticize the federation. Why?

On the contrary, I don’t criticize the federation. Let’s say all they have is Tk5 and give it to the players but we need Tk10, then how can the federation give you Tk10? It’s not possible for them. They have limited space. They spend what they earn. I criticized sports organizers who create funding. If you look at the domestic weightlifting scene, the performance has improved a lot but when we take to the stage in international competitions, we perform worse than others. I can’t hold my head high. We should be on the stage like tigers because tiger is our national animal. The disappointing performance in the international stage is down to lack of patronization, sincerity and planning. 

Has not there been any change?

There has been no change in terms of coaches. Those who were here before are still there. I wouldn’t say they are incapable. They are capable. But if there are coaches of higher quality, then the existing ones can get better and so will we, the weightlifters. I have been hearing since 2016 that we would get a bigger gymnasium but no implementation is yet to be seen. We weightlifters are like caged animals in a zoo. Even those who don’t have international success get separate indoor venue, but we are in a zoo. The preparation we get before an international tournament is nowhere near sufficient. Our venue is like a store room. We are not happy with the accommodation during the camp. The food is not good enough for proper diet. The price of everything increased but not our wages. I don’t want to say anymore.

Are you content with your earnings?

There was a time when my family felt insecure about my future but now I’m doing a government job. The money I get from a particular department is perhaps enough but I shouldn’t be dependent on government job only. I deserve scholarship and fund from Olympic association and weightlifting federation. But I have to be content with what I get. 

What do you want?

I want a proper venue and accommodation facility for at least 50 weightlifters at a time. I don’t know if I can see it during my playing career but whenever it happens I would be happy for the fellow weightlifters. I want to see it at least before my death. 

What is your future goal?

I want to carry on my form. Everyone is asking me to get hat-trick of SA Games gold. I will try my best to achieve this feat but if I fail, there will not be any regret because I already won five gold medals at international competitions. This is a history in Bangladesh weightlifting. I created my own identity.

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