The Youth Games events had ended and the cultural show to bring the curtain down on the Games had commenced at the Army Stadium in Banani on Saturday. The athletes were also dancing to the music when all of a sudden, Naim Sheikh rushed to the media cell.
This sprinter from Khulna had emerged as the fastest boy in the Youth Games just a little while ago. He had already received the medal but was yet to get the certificate.
In the media cell, he repeatedly said, “Sir, my actual name is Ikramul Hossain. The divisional sports body used my nickname for registration in the Games.” Ikramul was requesting organisers to put his actual name on the certificate.
Ikramul clocked 10.80 seconds in the 100-metre sprint to bag gold in the Games. Ikramul told the story of how much he had to endure to make it to the competition, “I come from a very poor family. You need to consume a lot of nutritious food for regular training. You need a minimum of Tk 15,000 every month for food. But my mother can’t provide that for me.”
To bear the cost of his training, Ikramul has to work as a construction worker.
“Sometimes I feel like leaving athletics altogether. To train, I need to consume a lot of food. But I can’t come up with so much nutritious food. I struggle to ensure three meals a day. I can’t continue like this. Working as a helper for a construction worker, I make Tk 450 a day. By working a few days every month, I earn my pocket money.”
Ikramul’s father left their home to go to India 12 years ago, and hasn’t come back. They don’t even know if he is dead or alive. Ikramul got teary eyed when talking about his father, “People’s fathers buy them many things. I also wish my father would bring gifts for me. I miss him a lot.”
To compete in the Youth Games, Ikramul borrowed Tk 1000 from a teacher from Khulna’s BL College to buy running shoes. This is his only pair of shoes for training. In the 2017 National School and Madrasah Sports Competition, he won gold in the 100m, 200m, 400m and the relay race. As reward, he got a crest at the Mohammadpur Physical Education College ground. But he didn’t receive any monetary prize.
Ikramul comes from a large family with a brother and four sisters. His elder brother has a mobile recharge shop and runs the family with his limited income. The sisters are already married. Ikramul takes very little money from his brother.
Ikramul is now praying that he gets a job in the services, “If I had a job, I could’ve trained better. Many show interest, but after seeing me they say I’m too short. Many athletes shorter than me work in many service organisations. I wish I had a job like that.”
In Bangladesh, talent hardly ever gets valued. Chances are, before the next youth games rolls along, sprinter Ikramul could disappear from athletics forever.
*This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy