By Maitreyee Shukla & Avik Ghosh
We as a nation tend to be an ignorant lot when it comes to sports. Now, at this point, many will take offence at this statement. How can we say that, when everyone knows that India participated and won 2 medals at the Olympics? Everybody cheered for the athletes, and in fact, even watched the closing ceremony! Well, the nation needs to know. The Olympics are not over yet. Now, it’s time for the Paralympics.
The typical trajectory of our communication about sports goes like this- Cricket- more cricket- some more cricket- Oh! Olympics! We won a few medals, yay! – Cricket. We barely ever notice other sports, and open a dictionary if someone says the word Paralympics. Paralympics don’t seem to garner much attention. This may very well be a result of our apathy towards sports other than Cricket. But there seems another, more sinister reason lying in the undercurrents. That is, our attitude towards the people with disabilities is either indifferent, or patronizing. Probably that is why Paralympics is not getting even as much attention as the Olympics.
The Indian media has virtually put the Paralympics on a black out, and without media attention it is next to impossible to get the general public aware about it. Yes, we are an apathetic lot, but with the media paying some attention to it, it might have been easier to convince the people of this country that Paralympics matters, too.
The Paralympics were started off as a sporting event for the world war veterans and from there it has grown into the largest sporting event for athletes with disability. The short term aim is of course to move past the physical barriers that the disabled people face and get them involved with the ‘main stream’. It’s other purpose, however, is to raise awareness, change perceptions and attitudes and finally, to make life better for disabled people by improving facilities and providing opportunities. India thankfully has been a constant participant in the Summer Paralympics since 1984, after a hiatus following their debut in 1968. This year’s summer Paralympics contingent is the largest India has ever sent. Even then, we are far behind other countries when it comes to providing facilities to Para athletes.
Recently, PM Modi patronized people with disabilities by calling them ‘Divyang’. Later, he also tweeted asking us to cheer for the para- athletes. In spite of which, no channel, private or public has bought the satellite rights to broadcast the games. Shobha De went on to state that the athletes go to the Olympics to eat, drink and click selfies. We all understand Shobha De’s disappointment at India not getting more medals, and share PM’s hopes too, but we need to stop and introspect.
Prior to the London Paralympics, the UK built a stadium specifically to cater to the Para athletes. While our Para athletes strive for bare minimums, countries like Canada actually celebrate the Paralympics. The Paralympics committee of Canada organizes Paralympic Schools Week, which is a week long celebration of Para sports and the Paralympic movement in Canada. Canada even gives the Para athletes continuous access to the same high level coaches as the non- disabled athletes. The United States Olympics committee receives government funding for Paralympic military programs, and raises funds via philanthropy, broadcasting rights and sponsorship. Japan, Australia, and several other countries, provide sport psychologists in addition to their physical training to help the athletes cope up with the barriers and pressures. The UK spends money on fewer athletes compared to India, where spending is diffused among numerous federations and athletes, according to our analysis. The UK has 18 million people aged between 15 and 35, while India has more than 400 million youth in that age group. UK in general spends $ 1.5 billion i.e. 9000 crores annually on sports infrastructure and training while India spends exactly one-third of it i.e. $ 500 million. Of course, the case with Paralympics is even worse.
In previous Paralympics 10 athletes joined the Game representing India. One of them, H.N, Girisha, also won a silver medal, but unfortunately, this brought no accolades, got him no recognition and he remained anonymous. This time 19 member contingent has gone to participate in Paralympics, among who three are women participants. Statistically, there is a better probability of India winning medals this time. Still neither the national broadcaster nor the private channels have shown any interest so far in broadcasting the biggest sports tournament on earth for disabled athletes.
India has won a total of eight medals (two golds, three silvers and three bronzes) over 12 Paralympics and that straightaway gives us a lot of hope to see more medals this year. The 19 Para athletes from India will compete in over five sports disciplines — athletics, swimming, shooting, powerlifting and archery.
Here is the list of Paralympians representing India in Paralympics 2016:
|Mariyappan Thangavelu||High jump|
|Varun Singh Bhati||High jump|
|Sharad Kumar||High jump|
|Rampal Chahar||High jump|
|Sundar Singh Gurjar||Javelin throw|
|Devendra Jhajaria||Javelin throw|
|Narender Ranbir||Javelin throw|
|Amit Kumar Saroha||Club throw|
|Deepa Malik||Shot put|
|Naresh Kumar Sharma||Shooting|
|Suyash Narayan Jadhav||Swimming|
|Ankur Dhama||1500 m|
|Virender Dhankar||Javelin throw, Shotput|
|Karamjyoti Dalal||Discus throw|
Even though talented athletes like Saheb Hussain (100m, 200m, 400m) and Rubia Chatterjee (Shotput) of West Bengal who have won medal after medal at the National Level, sadly they couldn’t make it to Rio owing to the lack of funds and falling prey to State politics.
We need to understand & acknowledge the struggle of the athletes who make it to Paralympics. Mostly they come from rural backgrounds, and make it big despite the absolute melting pot of corruption, fund deficit, and apathy, that is our system. We, the Nation, must put our all behind these 19 who have gone there against all odds to make the country proud.
P.S: Rio Paralympics will be conducted from 7th September to 18th September. Unfortunately, because of absolute apathy of the government and media houses, it will not be telecast in India. But you can still watch the live streaming of the games on their official website, Paralympics.org.