Volume 2 Issue 19 - October 01, 2004

A sporting chance

Sport is a very effective tool for rehabilitation. It is unfortunate that the policy-makers, administrators and the people who run institutions for the disabled have not understood the potential of sport, says George Abraham

About 15 years ago, on a visit to the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehradun, I remember being woken up by the noise of children playing. When I went closer to the action, I saw a group of blind boys playing cricket with great vigour and passion. Each player in the action was identified with a Gavaskar or an Azharuddin or a Kapil Dev. It was obvious that the children were having a great time.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity of travelling to Gangawati, a small township in North Karnataka. I saw a few speech and hearing disabled boys and girls practicing high jump. Each time a new height was conquered, there was great celebration. They were even more excited when they were aware of a guest watching them. They wanted to perform even better.

I remember in class 8 during the annual sports meet, I was about to take up my position for the 100m qualifying race, when one of my teachers walked up to me and asked, "Why do you take the trouble of running? You are any way going to lose." My prompt reply was "I love running".

The teacher proved to be right, I came last. However, that did not stop me from trying harder and practising with greater vigour. The next year I surprised myself, and all in the school, when I qualified for the finals and won the 100m dash in spectacular fashion. The following years, I went on to represent the school at the District, State and Zonal level athletics competitions.

Life too, I believe is a running race. We have to love it. We have to live it with passion to succeed. Life without passion is no life. Passion is often characterised by ability, recognition, involvement, goals and effort. Where do the disabled access this passion?

Sport has an incredible character that is intrinsic to it that draws people in and creates a craving for more. As an activity, it is engaging and greatly enjoyable. There is scope for self-improvement and tremendous potential of attracting recognition and appreciation.

As someone told me once, sports not only provide the disabled with an avenue for recreation but also help to keep them occupied and release their energies. I would go one step further to say that sport creates opportunities for the disabled to express themselves, to recognise some of their abilities and experience the satisfaction of achieving.

It calls for great courage, ambition, desire, discipline, dedication, determination and hard work to excel in any sport. I guess these are qualities required to do well in real life too. Sport could be a very effective tool to push the disabled into lives that are motored by ambition and desire, fuelled by discipline dedication and hard work. You could well imagine where that could end up.

Sport is a very effective tool for rehabilitation. It is unfortunate that the policy-makers, administrators and the people who run institutions for the disabled have not understood the potential of sport. This is where I begin to wonder if these people really believe in the potential of disabled people, or whether they are simply doing social work and endeavouring for their own salvation - good cause, noble work, charity and all that - merely reflecting existing social attitudes.

It is, however, encouraging to note that a number of self-help groups have emerged in recent times, which have taken up the promotion of sport as their mandate. It is now possible to read about sports meets for the disabled, cultural events by the disabled, trekking for the disabled, etc. I must, however, point out that in all these initiatives there is no Government involvement.

The Paralympics have just concluded in Athens. Devendra bagged India's lone gold medal in the javelin with a throw of 62.5m. Rajiv Bagga, former National Badminton Champion and World Silent Games Badminton champion several times over, has been hearing and speech impaired from childhood. The two World Cups of cricket for the blind were hosted by India in 1998 in New Delhi and in 2002 in Chennai, respectively. These events and achievements not only provided disabled sportspeople with a platform to showcase their talent, they also gave the community and the world an opportunity to get an exposure to a positive image of people with disabilities. It is only positive images that can alter negative perceptions.

In the first week of June 2000, I was at a seminar organised by the All India Chess Federation for the Blind in Mumbai. Speaking on the topic "Chess: A medium for integration" almost all the speakers were convinced about the fact that sport can be a bridge that connects the disabled with the so called able-bodied. Particularly, chess as a game provides for a fair and open playing field. The speakers one after the other reiterated that once a game starts, the disability is forgotten and intricacies of the sport take over.

I experienced the same during the national cricket tournaments for the blind. To begin with, spectators gather out of a feeling of curiosity, but as the game gets on its way, it is the performances and scores that people are talking about. The overwhelming response from the media and the awareness that was created by the inaugural World Cup Cricket Tournament for the Blind held in New Delhi in November, 1998, only goes on to emphasise the point.

To conclude, I would like to focus on the following:

  • Sport provides for a very engaging and enjoyable form of recreation for people with disabilities.
  • Sport can also make for a very effective tool for rehabilitation and education.
  • Sport can also provide a much-needed platform, where the community and the world see disabled people as definite performers and potential contributing members of the society.

The Athens Olympic Games had a 1500m medal event for wheelchair users. This was perhaps the first ever medal event for persons with disability in an Olympic Games. Marla Runyan is a legally blind athlete who ran for the USA in the 1,500m event at Sidney in 2000 and in the 5000m at Athens in 2004. Can the Olympics become inclusive? Maybe not immediately, but certainly the Olympic movement can become inclusive and the events could be integrated. It might be difficult to conceive a 100m dash where the disabled and non-disabled athletes race against each other. However, the Paralympics, the Special Olympics, the World Silent Games and the World Blind Games could very easily become part of the mainstream Olympics right away. This could easily be the first step towards an Inclusive Olympics.

George Abraham is Chairman, Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI). He can be contacted at 125B, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi 110049. Tel: 91-11-26494581/2; E-mail: george@eyeway.org

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