Sports for the differently abled….
The summer deaflymics took place at Samsun, Turkey and the Indian contingent returned with a rich haul of 5 medals. Virender Singh won gold in the 74kg freestyle wrestling while Ajay Kumar and Sumit Dahiya bagged bronze medals in 65kg and 97kg respectively. Diksha Dagar clinched silver in golf as Prithvi Sekhar and Jafreen Shaik won bronze in men’s doubles tennis event.
At the same time the men and women’s Indian wheelchair basketball team won bronze medals at the 4th Bali International WCABB tournament.
The social media was abuzz with news of no government official or member of respective associations being present to welcome these players who brought laurels to the nation. The sentiment of disappointment is genuine. The way most of the able bodied athletes, cricketers in particular are received with pomp these days, naturally these differently abled, dynamic and braveheart athletes were hurt.
But is this a case of the general public not validating these achievements because we are ignorant about sports for the differently abled? Is it just because the media does not highlight these games enough? Or are we insensitive towards disability in general?
Few things need to be understood about sports for the disabled.
Disabled sports or para-sports are played by individuals with disability both physical or mental. All the sports played by the able bodied are also played by the differently-abled with a few modifications. But there are a few disciplines which are specially designed for the differently-abled and are known as adaptive sports.
The disabilities are classified into physical, mental, permanent and temporary.
We need to understand a major difference. As for the able bodied athletes, the structure of the games is quite standard as they have the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Cups/ World Championships and so on.
But that may not be the case in para games. As the occurring disabilities are diverse, so are the games and competitions. India did well at the Rio Paralympics 2016 where athletes like Devendra Jhajhariya, Mariyappan, Varun Singh and Deepa Malik created history.
At the Paralympics, disability of the athletes is classified in five different categories, amputation, cerebral palsy, wheelchair, visual impairment and physical disability that may not fall in any one category.
Then there are the Deaflympics where individuals who have a hearing disability can compete at the elite level. There are specific games for the visually impaired.
By the way chess is the only game where there is no handicap as a visually impaired player has to play a sighted player without any change in the rules or format of the game.
We also have the Special Olympics where children and adults with intellectual disabilities from across the world compete in various disciplines.
In cricket we have a few classifications. The able bodied cricketers, Cricket for the physically disabled, cricket for the visually impaired and cricket for the deaf who are otherwise able bodied.
Sporting events for the disabled have been classified into various different games and categories as the degrees of disability and their combinations may vary. Hence to give an equal opportunity to all, these classifications are necessary.
Coming back to the root causes, ignorance and insensitivity. The men’s wheelchair basketball team crowd-funded their journey to Bali while the women’s team was supported by the Australian consulate. Sad but true as both returned winning a bronze medal.
The casual approach runs deep in our minds more than the system. For a country with a billion plus population, sports doesn’t really mean much, there might be various social reasons though not justifiable any more.
The 2011 census puts India’s disabled at 2.21% of our population, which is approximately around 2 crore. Majority of the population and infrastructure is insensitive towards disabled, how can one expect them to recognize disabled sports persons?
If no government official was present to receive these successful athletes, did the media come forward to celebrate their success rather than just reporting on their disappointment? Did the fellow passengers at the airport realized that these athletes have made the country proud and got into an impromptu celebration?
The most important priority today for the country is to celebrate sports, which will lead to sensitization about athletes and the value they bring to our lives.
We salute the grit and courage of each and every differently-abled athlete who has represented the nation. Doesn’t matter if no officials or ministry cares for you. But we are all proud of you !!!!!
The writer is a Radio Sports Commentator