India’s Paralympic dreams are meant to overcome the toughest odds, but 19 of our compatriots wanted to pave the way for millions who otherwise would never dare to have such a lofty goal. To be the best, they had to beat the best.
The best countries cultivate the talent of their athletes with world-class coaches and cutting-edge advances in sports science and technology.
A carpenter’s son, who was struck down with polio at the age of five and lost function in his left leg, won 7 gold medals in international competitions, became world number one and made his country proud at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo – that’s just one of the many inspiring stories waiting to be heard.
Many Indian athletes who have overcome humble beginnings know this story all too well. The sport has elevated their lives and those around them, but the disability and stigma they have had to overcome and the risks they take to have a chance at glory are baffling.
Although India fared better at the Tokyo Paralympics than at the Olympics, in terms of medal count, the kind of support and access provided to para-athletes in the country stands in stark contrast to the buzz around the able-bodied athletes.
There is a lot to be done to close this gap and develop talents, whatever the handicaps present; and the government has a crucial role to play here.
Working in India with a disability is a daunting task – access to jobs, both in cities and especially in remote areas, is neither cheap nor easy. So what can we expect from our para-athletes? Should socio-economic background be the determining factor? The government, with the Persons with Disabilities Act 19962, provided much needed codification of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Education and job reservation programs have gone a long way in alleviating some of the stress for people with disabilities. The Deen Dayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) promotes life skills, skills development and education to train people for employability, training and awareness.
Sponsorships have played a huge role in creating the resources needed to prepare our athletes for challenging sporting events. The Haryana 2021 Exceptional Sportsperson Service Rules have appointed outstanding sportspersons to sports administration positions and provide Paralympians and Para-athletes with the same opportunities as their able-bodied counterparts.
Upcoming infrastructure in India and grants
India’s para badminton coach Gaurav Khanna has partnered with Aegis Federal Life Insurance to establish India’s first para badminton academy.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI), as part of the initiative to promote sport among the disabled under the Khelo India banner, will provide financial assistance to national and state federations to organize games that will identify the most gifted athletes Across the country. The federations are – Special Olympic Bharat, Indian Paralympic Committee (ICP) and All India Sports Council of Deaf.
SAI’s regional center in Gandhinagar is operational in athletics, swimming, powerlifting and table tennis and includes a para-sports wing. Other SAI centers across the country are now accessible to para-athletes.
SAI’s TOPS scheme
The SAI is a supreme government body established by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 1984. Para-athletes have been identified and placed in the core group of the SAI, such as Dharambir in the club’s men’s throwing event, Someswara Rao excelling in the long jump, Manasi Joshi and Nithya Sre being two promising badminton aces, Mandeep Kaur and Manisha Ramdass (Badminton – SU5).
Through the SAI program, a TOPS Athlete Selection Committee also selects para-athletes and supports them and oversees their training finances, etc. in a certain way. A recent change in policy has also allowed athletes in the core group to receive a stipend of Rs 50,000 per month.
Assistive technology and athlete rights
The 2016 RPWD Act specifies that the government is taking steps to develop technology and improve the potential, talent, capacity and aptitude in sports activities of all persons with disabilities.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games included a revolutionary combination of cutting-edge technology with amputations and prosthetic designs. 3D printing technology has been used to create custom gloves for various sports that can be used to effortlessly push wheelchairs.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms have been used to develop tapping devices that have helped swimmers with vision difficulties. Disabled athletes received messages from these tapping devices which indicated, among other things, the time to turn and the time remaining to reach the wall.
As athletes become more visible and active on and off the pitch, their rights become even more crucial. In India, personal rights are neither codified in a separate law nor established by special legislation.
Any type of acknowledgment and enforcement is through the understanding of a set of rights under applicable law. These rights must be used for financial gain and athletes need financial and media management advice to keep their name in the public eye.
These revenues obtained can be channeled towards the greater good, by opening academies or foundations to help underprivileged athletes who depend on aid. In addition, substantial grants are given by successful athletes and their foundations to para-sports, and state governments provide grants of up to Rs 5 crore to a gold medalist at the Paralympic Games.
Take notes from Odisha template
Odisha’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, has sought to ensure sportspeople are given optimum exposure to competition. The wealth of training and facilities provided to the national hockey team in Odisha, which led to its glorious performance in the Olympics, must also be readjusted and replicated for the para-athletes.
What started with the Kalinga Lancers has evolved into memorandums of understanding with top corporations to bring high performance sports centers (HPCs) to the state, which are based on a PPP (public private partnership) model. and offer state-of-the-art facilities for local talent in international competition. CM’s passion for sports and enthusiasm for hockey filled the stadiums and turned this lofty dream into reality.
How can India do better?
The Indian government has allocated 3064 crores in its annual sports budget. This money is not used optimally to obtain the best results. It is spent and concentrated unevenly. Some states see an over-concentration of funds while others are neglected.
Countries that excel in sport have used their funds more holistically. Transport costs are a major problem for para-athletes in India. A policy providing them with affordable travel to sports facilities will go a long way towards developing talent across the country, as access to facilities is critical.
There is a need for government assistance in athletics and Olympic sports, to make them commercially viable. Parasport Hall of Famer Deepa Malik joined the country’s current ruling party and pushed for policies to uplift and include people with disabilities and athletes throughout her jurisdiction and eventually throughout the country.
The next three-year plans must make sport accessible to all, which can pave the way for world-class athletes in every Indian district. A central sector program of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, one of whose objectives is to generalize participatory sports among people with disabilities, can be useful. Grants and subsidies for sports coaching institutes will ensure the retention of outstanding coaches.
Khelo India Para Games regional level competitions help identify athletes who can be national and international champions. All sports federations under the ministry should focus on revamping existing sports facilities for better access, including multi-sensory essentials and features for physical disabilities.
The Department of Sports should partner with the Institutes of Technology, Nutrition and Optimal Performance to develop solutions to the deficiencies and injuries suffered by veterans. These innovations can pave the way for their inclusion in sport through mobility, overcoming trauma and advanced training methods. Technology can bring people together and generate greater participation in parasports as well.
The incorporation of para-sport specific centers into our sports schools focusing on building athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic levels by reallocating some of the funds given to sports already developed in the country is ideal.
The Olympic Mission Cell (MOC) is to conduct talent searches in rural communities and among injured veterans and offer incentives to outstanding athletes to join.
Cuba’s training program is supplemented by former Olympic-level athletes who become coaches and provide medical care when needed. Many of our veterans who cannot serve the country in a military capacity are men and women of great discipline who can be transferred into the sports arena.
In order to foster the development of emerging athletes, parasport training facilities are essential and must be established in every state over the next decade to capitalize on the growing popularity of parasports.
After seeing our athletes excel on the world stage, there will be more young people with disabilities wanting to prove their mettle on the international stage. These athletes should be praised for their courage and also reassured about their future prospects by creating sustainable infrastructures where there is the availability of jobs such as coaches or administrators.
The Government of Karnataka and Odisha’s policy of inviting public-private partnerships to sponsor athletes as part of their CSR obligations is promising as the industry becomes increasingly profitable in India and recognition names of athletes can be used.
Organizing these statewide grants across the country and transparency are key to ensuring that these funds are used effectively and that para-athletes also receive their due.
This article is written by Vilay Sports – a sports management company that develops and maintains partnerships in all areas of sport.