Nishat Mahmud is 100% superhero material and one of the Studyportals IDA Scholarship finalists this year. She is an ambitious young woman from Bangladesh determined to change the way people perceive women’s sports in her part of the world. She worked hard, got accepted at Kedge Business School in Marseille, and she knows she will find a way to make her dream come true.
“It seems that all of Paris is under construction because of the Olympics,” says Nishat as she closes the window of her room to stop the noise of a driller coming in. “It’s a good time to be here. A good time to study Sports.”
As the preparations for the 2024 Summer Olympics buzz through the French capital, the 30-year-old from Dhaka, Bangladesh, is trying to make her way into the events management industry. Her dream: become a fundraiser and support women’s sports.It wasn’t easy to get here, halfway around the world. But she made it! She got to one of the best International Sport and Event Management programmes in France, at Kedge Business School, and she’s looking to find ways to fund her studies. She just applied for a student loan and is actively looking for a scholarship to help her achieve this. Out of thousands of applicants, she was one of the 2022 Studyportals International Distinction Awards finalists, as the scholarships were won by two other outstanding students.
‘Superman is real’, and he’s a cricket player
She vividly remembers the day she got hooked on sports. She was 5 years old, watching TV with her family. It was a match between South Africa and Pakistan and the evening when she found out that Superman existed in real life. His name wasn’t Clark Kent but Jonty Rhodes, one of the greatest cricket players of all time.
“During the match, there was this player, I didn't know his name at the time, but he was magnificent. As I was watching the TV, I suddenly saw him fly. And for me it was like, oh my God, Superman is real! And there he is! Rhodes is like the best fielder in the world. Rarely missed a ball he jumped after,” Nishat remembers.
In Bangladesh, cricket is king. It’s their ‘football’. When the country won against Pakistan in 1997, everybody went to the streets. It was huge. And Nishat was there on her father’s shoulders.
Nishat Mahmud and Jonty Rhodes
‘People assumed I wouldn’t understand sports because I’m a girl.’
Nishat always loved sports. But surprisingly, loving sports is not a simple thing to do, not if you’re a girl in her country.
“I went to a girl school, and we didn't really have a lot of sports, I mean we weren’t allowed to play. We only had volleyball. My dream is to have girl teams, not just boy’s, in other sports as well. I want at least to change people's mindset,” says Nishat.
She always found it difficult to keep her mouth when talking about cricket with boys, although they often told her to remember her place.
“Boys used to tell me to stop talking about sports. They just assumed I wouldn't understand sports because I'm a girl, but I do. I'm not a sports player, but just being a sports fan was difficult for me. Apart from my parents, nobody was supportive.”
Nishat believes women deserve the same opportunities, same sponsorship, same facilities in their gym, same living condition as the men. “I worked for the cricket Women Club Cup Tournament in 2008, 2009, and I saw the women's national team closely. I saw the men's as well. And the men's, I mean, they lived like kings. They had everything, but while the women they didn’t even have a proper gym.”
‘I don’t care about being paid; I just want to be in the stadium’
A few years later, Nishat decided to follow her dream through, so she got to the keyboard and started writing to people. She became a Media and Communications student and got noticed thanks to her passion and perseverance.
“I got in touch with this umpire called Darrell Harper, he was coming to Bangladesh for his 75th match. He saw my enthusiasm and said that if I wanted, I could interview him, write an article, maybe publish it in a school magazine or whatever. I accepted, but in my mind, I was like, «Oh, my God, I can faint!»
First time at a football ground (PSG at UEFA Champions League 2021)
The article got published in the leading English newspaper in Bangladesh; the editor really liked it and asked Nishat to write regularly. Since then, she has interviewed a lot of important people and moved forward, step by step, towards her dream of working in the sports industry.
“For the World Cup in 2014, I emailed all my contacts. I just need to be in the stadium, I told them, I don't care about being paid. I don't care about what I have to work. As long as I get to be in the stadium when there is a match, and do my bit, I’m in!”
‘My dad is a feminist’
Nishat always felt supported by her family. Even as she is in Paris, they are doing everything in their power to find ways for her to pay for the studies. And they always seemed to be more open minded than other parents.
“My father had a difficult childhood, he was an orphan, he had to take care of himself. But he was ambitious, he found his way in life, travelled a lot, I think that broadened up his mind. My dad is a feminist. I don't know how it happened. And for him, it's like me and my brother, we were the same, and we should do what we love.”
Her dad, who is a Wounded Freedom Fighter, also loves sports. Nishat joyfully remembers the nights when they watched Western cricket matches until 3 a.m. in the morning.
“I was his partner in crime. Mom would be very mad. But we had each other’s back.”
At one point, after Jonty Rhodes retired, became a commentator, Nishat took her dad to a sports event where she worked and introduced him.
“He was very proud. He told all his friends that he met Rhodes and that he's a colleague of his daughter.”
Another important person in Nishat’s life was Salma Khatun, the captain of the Bangladesh women's cricket team, a woman who “didn't care about being a woman.”
“She told me that if I love cricket, I should play cricket. I actually did try for a bit, I understood playing is not my thing, but the lesson was that when you set your mind on doing something, you should do it.”
The present, The future
All these challenges, all the successes and rejections she faced, shaped Nishat into a pragmatic young woman. She knows what she wants to do with her life. Her goal is to work for a company that sponsors sports competitions and move up to a position where she can convince people to invest in women's sports and not just men’s.
For now, in France, she managed to be involved in several Paris Fashion Week editions, one of the world’s most highly renowned and influential fashion events. Here she found people who chose to believe in her potential.
Hosting a cricket show
After applying to several universities, she decided to move forward with the Master’s at Kedge Business School.
“I didn’t expect it, but I got in, and the school has been so amazing so far. I still must find a way to pay the €14,000 tuition fee, it will probably be a bank loan, but I am looking for scholarships or sponsorships as well. I'm just taking one day at a time, and I'm like for now, my focus is just to get the degree and do my best in the school,” Nishat confidently concludes.