Representing Bangladesh is the best decision I’ve ever made: Imranur Rahman

May 25, 2023

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Imranur is eyeing more accolades and ahead of the 25th Asian Championship in Bangkok, he is gearing up for an invitational event in Geneva, starting on 10 June.

When England-based athlete Imranur Rahman first participated in a national-level competition in Bangladesh, he broke a 22-year-old record to become the country’s fastest man. In that event in January last year, he finished the 100-meter sprint in 10.50 seconds, the fastest since electronic timing began in the country.

His timing was marginally behind Maldives’ Hassan Saaid (10.49), who won the gold medal in the 2019 South Asian Games in Kathmandu.

Come September and Imranur was faster, this time breaking his own record after finishing the 100-meter sprint in 10.29 seconds. Before that, he was ranked sixth in the Islamic Solidarity Games with a timing of 10.01 seconds.

The three-time fastest man of the country took it up a notch when he became the nation’s first-ever gold medalist at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship.

The 29-year-old sprinter won the gold medal in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, by clocking his fastest timing – 6.59 seconds – in the 60-meter competition.

Imranur is eyeing more accolades and ahead of the 25th Asian Championship in Bangkok, he is gearing up for an invitational event in Geneva, starting on 10 June.

As surprising as it is, Imranur, who used to play a bit of football while growing up, thought about taking up athletics seriously as late as when he was 19.

“I started running seriously when I was around 19 years old, obviously quite late,” he told The Business Standard (TBS). “Soon after that, I became curious, contacted coaches, enrolled in training programs and all. My first competitive run was in England. It was a domestic competition, sort of an open race where everyone could participate. It wasn’t particularly a good experience but I’ve improved a lot since then.”

Imranur, who grew up in Sheffield and has a Yorkshire accent, said Bangladesh had always been on his mind, and although it took some time to be cleared to represent Bangladesh, his decision to run for the country was a no-brainer.

“Bangladesh had been on my mind for a very long time. I always wanted to represent Bangladesh but didn’t know the logistics. I was born in England but my parents were, of course, born in Bangladesh. You cannot represent two countries. So, I chose Bangladesh and it’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”

His parents hail from Sylhet’s Jalalpur area in Dakshin Surma. Imranur has been to Bangladesh quite a few times and those long vacations during childhood helped him develop love for the country.

“I’ve been to Bangladesh probably six-seven times. I was there for the first time when I was two-three years old. I was there for 10 months. Then again I visited the country when I was in class five and stayed back for six-seven months. I used to come here and stay for quite a long period,” he said.

Imranur credits Abdur Rokib Montu, the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Athletics Federation, for the support he got from him when he expressed his desire to represent Bangladesh.

“Abdur Rokib Montu, the General Secretary of the Athletics Federation, came to England in 2017 for the World Championship. That’s when I opened a dialogue about how I could represent Bangladesh; if I was good enough or not. It took a bit longer than I expected because of external factors – Covid, injuries, Visa processing.”

When Imranur made history in Kazakhstan, it not only made people back in Bangladesh proud, but also gave joy to the British-Bangladeshi community in England. More than half a million Bangladeshis are part of that community, most of them hailing from Sylhet.

“They were very happy. For anyone who has roots in Bangladesh, there is no better feeling than representing the country,” he said. “We need heroes in every sector – sports, business, entertainment – to represent the country internationally. The British-Bangladeshis – our goal is to do the best for Bangladesh.”

Imranur spoke fondly about Mohamed Shah Alam, a legendary Bangladeshi athlete who famously won two gold medals for Bangladesh in the 1985 and 1987 South Asian (SA) Games. Shah Alam passed away in a road accident in 1990.

“The sport has not been in the spotlight for decades, probably since the feats achieved by Mohamed Shah Alam,” he remarked. “I want to win medals for Bangladesh. But more than that, I want to create an environment for athletics, something that has not been given much priority.”

Imranur, who also has a degree in sports science, is 29 now, and intends to continue running until he is 35-36. But he assured us it won’t be the end of his alliance with the country.

“I want to leave a legacy so that there are enough athletes who can take the baton from me when I sign off. I want to help Bangladesh win medals as a player, as a coach or whatever opportunity I am given to contribute to Bangladesh’s athletics.”

His feats have revived a dying sport in Bangladesh but Imranur understands it’s not easy for athletes in Bangladesh to do high-performance training. He himself has to juggle between jobs to train and prepare himself for competitions.

“During my training days, I have to train four-five hours a day, including strength and conditioning. I have to do that four-five days a week,” he stated.

Imranur is thankful to the Athletics Federation, Bangladesh Olympic Association (BOA) and Bangladesh Army, whom he plays for in national competitions, for the constant support, and said they are working on a solution so that he can focus more on his training.

“Any athlete would want that [full-time training]. When I compare myself to other athletes, I see they are financially stress-free. I know the Athletics Federation is doing its best to work on a solution.”

Right now, his target is to do well in three major competitions – the Asian Championship in July, the World Championship in August and the Asian Games in September.

A few days ago, he travelled to Chelmsford to watch a practice session of the Bangladesh cricket team. The sport he plays is not a sponsor-backed one like cricket. For the last two weeks, he is looking for Bangladeshi brands to sponsor him. He knows the sport has to become more mainstream to attract sponsors and he is trying hard to do just that.

In his first sprint on Bangladeshi soil, he broke the record of the late Mahbub Alam. Mahbub won Bangladesh’s last gold medal in the SA Games in 1995. Will he emulate the feat achieved by his predecessor at a bigger stage? Only time has the answer, but Imranur Rahman surely has the belief.

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