The London Olympics are now over and a country of 1.2 billion people is basking in the glory of its ‘best’ performance: 2 silvers and 4 bronzes. Nobody seems to be aware that something called Paralympics were to start two weeks after the Games and that India was a country that was going to participate in it. No television network, not even the national network Doordarshan, telecast the grand opening ceremony, never mind the fact this was the biggest Paralympics ever with 4200 disabled athletes participating. The Queen herself opened the Games,that were almost sold out with most of the 2.5 million tickets sold. The London Games were touted as the ‘Games for Everyone’, to celebrate diversity and inclusion. But that point was lost on our Government, media and even the people.
Parasports in India is controlled by the Paralympic Committee of India (P.C.I.), the less said about it the better. It is controlled by non-disabled people with no connection whatsoever, with sports. Their infamy became well-known a couple of years back, a few months before the catastrophic International Wheelchair and Amputee Games (I.W.A.S.) in Bangalore in 2009. Allegations of corruption, players not getting proper equipment and attire despite the specific budgets allocated for this bythe Sports Ministry, inaccessible venues, accommodation, nepotism and favouritism in player selection were rampant. All this was happening right under the nose of the Sports Ministry, which continued to ignore complaints with an air of indifference and ‘business as usual’.
There were several dharnas against the Sports Ministry but the then Minister, Dr. M.S. Gill, refused to even give a patient hearing. Fortunately for the country, Dr. Gill was unceremoniously dropped from the Cabinet after the Commonwealth Games. The new incumbent, Ajay Maken was made aware of the situation the moment he took office. Maken seemed genuinely interested in the issue. An indication of this was the fact that the recognition of P.C.I. was taken away and they were asked to clean up their house.
The ideal would have been for the Sports Ministry to support the creation of a new, clean body with players and people who have experience of parasports. But, this wasn’t to be. While the Sports Ministry was dragging its feet on the way forward, P.C.I., started to work on their Plan B. They went upto politicians to put pressure on the Sports Ministry. The Bangalore based P.C.I. got support from Oscar Fernandes of the Congress and Sultan Ahmed, Minister of Tourism, from the Trinamool Congress. Sham elections were organised as part of the alliance with politicians. By sacrificing one or two earlier office bearers, the ‘elections’ resulted in a ‘new’ board where most of the names remained the same. Rathan Singh, who was the earlier President of P.C.I. became the ‘new’ Secretary General. Sultan Ahmed became the new President. There was supposed to be an ‘observer’ from Sports Authority of India (S.A.I.) to oversee that the elections were free and fair. This person was hand in gloves with P.C.I. and one who resisted all attempts to bring P.C.I. to book under the previous Sports Minister.
Once Sultan Ahmed and Oscar Fernandes came into the picture, political pressure was mounted on the Sports Ministry to restore the recognition back to P.C.I.Despite protestations from several para athletes and the disability sector about the catastrophic repercussions on disability sports, recognition was given back to P.C.I. The explanation given was that it was only till the Paralympics so that genuine athletes do not suffer and are not deprived of an opportunity to participate in the Games.
Allegations of P.C.I.’s incompetence that led to India losing out on a couple of slots in athletics surfaced much before the Paralympics. But by then, it was too late./p>
Once in London, P.C.I. smuggled in all their lackeys into the Games Village instead of the escorts and coaches. Some of the athletes spoke outand the cat was out of the bag.
For people who have followed the infamy of P.C.I., the fact that things went awry in London, came as no surprise. Anyone who is remotely concerned about the state of affairs and interested in setting things right has to first realise that patch work is not going to work.
It has to be understood that most of the athletes come from very humble backgrounds and extremely difficult circumstances. Given the fact that coming out against the corrupt system may potentially mean that several and significant roadblocks will be put in the pursuit of their sporting dreams, it is but normal for most of them to be very hesitant to speak out. But silence does not always mean concurrence. Sometimes, it is a sign that things are wrong, very wrong. It also means that all those who are in a position to do something, should intervene.
The way ahead is to make a clean and fresh beginning. The cure is to get to the root of the disease and not treat mere symptoms.We are all complaining about how the Paralympics Games were not telecast in India, how the talent got overshadowed by the mismanagement and how we should focus on the athletes. All this will not happen in thin air. For that, we need a body which does not have ulterior motives, which does not interfere with player selection based on personal equation and one that genuinely works towards building the profile of parasports in the country.
The way forward would be to remove the political influences that have been smuggled into para sports to further personal ambitions and to start a new body with genuine sportspersons and experts. The role of Sultan Ahmed and Oscar Fernandes needs to be questioned publicly. And the Sports Minister has to crack the whip and show the political will that is required of him, if he is truly intending to do some good.