By Merril Diniz:
India made its Paralympics debut in 1968 and so far, we have bagged 10 medals (2 at 2016 Paralympics in Rio), despite missing out on a few games. Not bad for a country that offers little to no support to its sportspeople, especially para-athletes. In the 2012 London Paralympics, a contingent of 10 athletes, all men, returned with one silver. This year, 17 were to participate. But when the Russian team was disqualified on account of a state-sponsored doping programme, two more Indian para-athletes got an opportunity, bringing the total number to 19.
What they’re up against at the 2016 Paralympic Games at Rio, is a total of 4,350 athletes from 176 countries, competing in 23 sports. According to the International Olympic Committee, over 1.8 million tickets have been sold. What’s interesting about this particular Indian contingent is that it is made up of athletes who have won medals at the national and international level, and are world-renowned in their fields. Yet, so many of us know little about them, which is why YKA will be bringing you updates from the event in the next few weeks. So, watch this space.
To kick things off, here are 18 important things you need to know about this year’s games:
1. Of the 19 parathletes, we have three women and 16 men (many from rural backgrounds) who have struggled a great deal to excel and make the cut for the world stage.
2. The Indian contingent will be participating in the following events: archery, 1500m, high jump, javelin, powerlifting, club throw, discus throw, shot put, shooting and swimming.
3. Ace javelin thrower, Devendra Jhajharia, who won India’s first Paralympics gold medal in Athens in 2004, was the flagbearer at the opening ceremony.
4. Approximately 72% of the team is ranked in the world’s top 10 in their sport, with the lowest rank being 14.
5. A total of 2,642 medals (877 gold, 876 silver and 889 bronze) are up for grabs. What’s interesting is that each medal has a device inside, that uses tiny steel balls to make a sound when they are shaken. This innovation will help sportspeople with a visual impairment, “experience” their medals.
6. This contingent has India’s first fully blind para athlete Ankur Dhama, who will be participating in the 1500m race. An alumnus of St Stephen’s College, Ankur is originally from U.P., and moved to Delhi for education. He bagged three medals at the Asian Para Games in 2014.
7. Powerlifter and World No. 6, Farman Basha made Team India’s debut with the powerlifting event on September 8, 2016. He missed a bronze medal and emerged fourth, still a significant achievement for India.
8. In the spirit of a recurring trend – one that’s damaging for our athletes – Pooja, an archer from Rohtak, was denied the chance to be accompanied by her coach Sanjay Suhag, because the Indian Paralympic Council did not deem it necessary. Pooja recently won a gold medal in the Senior Para National Archery Championships.
9. Deepa Malik, a paraplegic with an impressive medal in sports like the discus and javelin, has entered the Limca Book of World Records three times for her road trips on bike and car, across rough terrains. In Rio, she is aiming to bag India’s first gold medal in the shot put category. She has won 54 national gold medals and 13 international ones, till date.
10. A great coach is an asset and Satyapal Singh is one such individual who has trained several Indian para athletes. He apparently channelises his earnings from his day job as a teacher at the Acharya Narendra Dev College, Delhi, into training his athletes. He even funded Ankur for his Paralympic qualifier in Dubai, since the sports authorities refused to do it. Yet, despite all his efforts, he’s not been allowed to travel to Rio to support Ankur.
11. And here’s yet another facepalm for our Paralympic Committee of India, who seem to have forgotten what the Indian flag looks like! Parathelete and accessibility rights advocate Pradeep Raj calls them out on social media.
12. The high jump segment is especially worth noting for India; it features three Indians who dominate the rankings at World Rank No 1, 2 and 3 – Tamil Nadu’s Mariyappan Thangavelu, Uttar Pradesh’s Varun Bhati and Bihar’s Sharad Kumar.
13. Varun Bhati, 21, considered a sort of wonderkid of the high jump, recently won a gold in the IPC World Athletics Championship in Dubai. He has won the bronze medal at Rio for men’s high jump.
14. Mariyappan, 20, also a high jump specialist, has a phenomenal story of grit and determination. Hailing from a poor family from Salem district, Tamil Nadu, he went on to win a gold medal at the IWAS World Junior Games 2015 in the Netherlands, and he repeated the victory by winning a gold medal at Rio in men’s high jump.
15. Bihar’s Sharad Kumar made headlines in 2012 due to allegations of doping. But he proved his critics wrong when he won gold at the 2014 Para Asian Games at Incheon, while also breaking a 12-year Asian Games record!
17. Our PMO cheered the team on with a tweet.
The people of India will be enthusiastically cheering for our athletes representing India at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, starting 7th Sept.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 1, 2016
But our sportspersons are not buying it, because unlike the Olympics 2016, no television channel including the state player Doordarshan, has come forward to telecast the event.
18. To tackle this head on, press conferences were held in Kolkata and Delhi around this national shame. After some much-needed media coverage, and negotiations with the powers that be, YKA was informed by Pradeep Raj that Indian viewers will finally get to watch the Paralympics on TV. However, not live. Sony will telecast highlights through its two sports channels – SIX and ESPN, in two sessions of one hour daily.
With inputs from Suchandra Ganguly, disability rights activist and Founder of Civilian Welfare Foundation.