April 04, 2021

Para Sportspersons Treated in a Reprehensible Manner

THE National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) expressed dismay at the deplorable and reprehensible manner in which the National Para Athletics Championship was conducted in Bengaluru from March 24 to 27, 2021. NPRD has written a letter to the minister for youth and sports, Kiren Rijiju, on March 25, after having been flooded with complaints of varying natures from the athletes.

Originally scheduled to be held at Chennai, the venue was changed at the last minute to Bengaluru. This eleventh hour alteration was necessitated by the non-receipt of permission to hold the event at Chennai. While the games were slated to commence from March 24, the notice for change was put out as late as March 20, 2021, just four days earlier. It is obvious that the Paralympic Committee of India had announced the venue and schedule without bothering to get the requisite clearances beforehand. What would have happened if Karnataka had not agreed to play host, is anyone’s guess, said the NPRD.

Coming from poor economic backgrounds, most of these athletes were already finding it difficult to manage things, without sponsors and support from concerned sporting bodies, when many of them learnt on reaching Chennai of the change. Many were midway through their journey. It would be difficult to comprehend the immense difficulties these sportspersons were put to, additionally due to their disabilities, owing to the total arrogance and apathy on the part of the organisers.

More travails awaited them at Bengaluru. Events were not taking place as per the announced schedule. Athletes were made to wait for hours together for their event to happen. There are also complaints that in certain events, categories were merged together merely to scale down the number of events. An example is of the merger of the F/56 & F/57 shot put categories for women. Certain participants have also protested in writing against the merger.

Participants complained that no rules and regulations were being followed at the championship. “We are in receipt of video clippings showing the continuation of some events even after sunset without adequate lighting, in the dark, using torchlights and mobile phone torches. This is unprecedented in sporting history. It is demeaning and amounts to belittling the athletes and virtually the entire championship,” NPRD said.

There are also complaints that no new-classification was done for this championship, which is against established norms. While, it was announced that only sportspersons who had participated in previous national championships would be allowed to participate, it is alleged that many new comers were also allowed. While, new talent should be welcomed and encouraged, many of those who could not reach Bengaluru due to the earlier decision were deprived of the opportunity, however deplorable the conditions in which the events are being held.

In addition, a registration fee of Rs 2000 was also being collected by the PCI from participants, which, the NPRD said the sports minister would also concur, is an extra burden on the athletes.

Those responsible for such reprehensible conduct should not be allowed to go scot free. They should be held accountable. The agony, trauma and physical hardships, apart from monetary losses that these sportspersons had to suffer, is immense. It has been a nightmare for many. They have to be compensated, demanded the NPRD.

Apart from other things, the PCI has for years been mired in charges of corruption and nepotism. The expectation in some quarters that now with a para sportsperson at its helm, things will change for the better, has been totally belied. The conduct of these games is reminiscent of an earlier national event at Ghaziabad in 2015. We do not seem to have learnt from that experience and continue to treat para sports/sportspersons in the most undignified, insensitive and callous manner, said the NPRD.

The fiasco at Ghaziabad led to the PCI being disbanded. A similar action is called for urgently. At the same time, the new body that would replace it, should be constituted through a democratic mechanism. In this process, all stake holders including the sportspersons and organisations working among disabled persons need to be consulted, NPRD said.

“Our para sportspersons have brought laurels to the country. In the last event held in Rio, Brazil, they had returned with four medals. We need to take forward these achievements. For this, apart from adequate financial support, necessary infrastructure and democratically elected sporting bodies which act as the fulcrum, are a prerequisite. To reiterate, those responsible should be held accountable and adequate compensation should be paid to the athletes who were put to great distress,” NPRD said and hoped that in the interest of para sports and sportspersons, the minister would act decisively.