Volume 6 Issue 13 - December 15, 2009

An ‘Unsporty’ Affair!

An athlete struggling to get into an auto
An athlete struggling to get into an auto. Courtesy: The Indian Express

The recently concluded International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (I.W.A.S.) World Games in Bengaluru was nothing short of a national shame. But what is most surprising and shocking is the way the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is shielding the organizers, the Paralympic Committee of India (P.C.I.). With allegations of rampant corruption doing the rounds, Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. takes a hard look at how crores of tax payers money is being swindled in the guise of special sports.

No one word can describe the farce that the World Games hosted by the Paralympics Committee of India (P.C.I.) in Bengaluru from November 24 to December 1 was. What could have been an amazing opportunity for India to showcase its sports a year before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, ended up as a national disgrace. The P.C.I. website now shamelessly trumpets the World Games as a success, while an average, sensible Indian cannot but be appalled at the total lack of integrity in the people who claim to be the pall bearers of disability sports in India. The farce has only made the allegations of corruption between P.C.I. and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports even stronger.

P.C.I. won the bid to host the Games in 2007 but work did not even start at the venue till a week before the Games were to start! As the officials of P.C.I. went on publicity blitz tomtomming the fact that 1000 athletes from across 43 countries would be participating, they happily forgot the fact that they were hosting a sporting event for disabled sportspersons. Here are a few highlights!

During the opening ceremony at Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Jon Bockweg, Technical Director, I.W.A.S. could not even get on the dais as there wasnt any ramp! Toilets were inaccessible as were the venues for different events. No liaison officers were appointed and foreign athletes kept wandering aimlessly. Transport was as good as going mountain trekking for orthopaedically impaired athletes as they struggled to get into small and high floor vehicles, if at all they got one. My personal favourite is a picture published in The Indian Express, that of a wheelchair user athlete struggling to get into an auto!! Bombarded with complaints, P.C.I. hurriedly put up wooden ramps only to be told later that they were TOO steep!

A lot of the people here will be at the Commonwealth Games. They will tell this story back home. You call that good P.R.? said an outraged Bockweg to media persons. One official even went to the extent of saying that he had seen better organisation in war ravaged Rwanda! A number of teams like United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Philippines, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, etc even boycotted the closing ceremony. Not that they missed much when the high point of the ceremony were speeches praising P.C.I.!

Post this national disgrace, what is even more surprising and shocking is the fact that the nodal Ministry is unusually quiet about the whole affair. Pradeep Raj, General Secretary of Association of Disabled People and Delhi State Paralympic Association is livid with the way the Games were held. He had written numerous letters to the Sports Minister, M.S. Gill complaining about the functioning of P.C.I. earlier too, but they all went unacknowledged.

P.C.I. had conducted camps earlier this year in Bengaluru. Even then, the disabled players were treated shoddily. Women athletes were not provided escorts, there were no accessible bathrooms, no proper accommodation, etc. Despite the fact that they get crores of funding, there is no accountability, said Raj.

P.C.I. is an accredited national level organisation under the Sports Ministry and yet all the activities are concentrated in South India. The governing body of P.C.I. is also not democratically constituted.

Nobody knows how the governing body is chosen. They have no idea about disability sports and are just busy making money, added Raj.

And to give credit where due, P.C.I. and the Sports Ministry have devised novel ways of milking the tax payer! Recently, P.C.I. took members of the Table Tennis team to London for a month on an acclimatisation trip for the next Paralympic Games in 2012!! But of course, office bearers of P.C.I. also found ways to be included in this State sponsored trip. According to Raj, R. Rathan Singh, President of P.C.I. went as the official masseur!! Even the extended families of the office bearers of P.C.I. went as escorts for disabled players!!

A player from Gujarat was given an escort from Karnataka who happened to be a relative of a P.C.I. official. The whole month the girl faced tremendous difficulty as her escort wasnt by her side for even half a second! said Raj.

Raj, however, did not give up. He continued to write letters as a result of which the Joint Secretary, Sports Ministry, I. Srinivas called a meeting where Raj and officials of P.C.I. were called. But even there, nothing much was done.

I brought up all the issues but the Ministry officials seemed to be in no mood to bring P.C.I. to book, said Raj.

When I told him that if transparency is not brought into the system, we are going to mobilize the disability sector to stage dharnas and protests, the Joint Secretarys response was shocking. He told me that no matter what the sector does, the issue will come back to him only and it is he who will decide on the course of action to be taken. Such was his arrogance of power! he added.

When Raj brought up the issues of the London trip and how officials of P.C.I. and their relatives hitched a free trip while genuine sportspersons were ignored, the Joint Secretary reportedly said Itna toh chalta hain!!! This, dear readers, is the state of affairs of Indias so-called special sports.

There are many questions that the Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports has to answer. Like why have they not taken away accreditation from P.C.I. till now? If P.C.I is a national sports organisation like the Ministry claims it is, why arent the elections to its governing body transparent? Who is accountable for the lakhs and lakhs of Rupees that were allocated and the dismal results that were shown against that funding?

Corruption at any level is disgraceful but to make money in the name of disabled people is corruption of the lowest order!!! It is time the disability sector took matters in their own hands and showed the so called professionals where they belong. Miles away from disability sports.

And Mr. Gill, we sincerely hope you wake up from your indifference and wake up fast. Else the reality that you may also have to suffer the same ignominy like one of your namesake in hockey faced will hit you hard and hit you very soon.

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