They had never lost hope while fighting their disabilities,but the Union Sports Ministry killed their spirits when it dropped the Indian wheelchair basketball team from the first Asian Para Games,that began in Gangzhou,China on Sunday.
The seven-member team from the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre here,a regular at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled (FESPIC) now renamed Asian Para Games,was informed a week ago that the ministry had no funds to sponsor it. The team has been practising for the event for the past six months. We were hoping against hope that the government would sponsor us,but a week ago,the Ministry conveyed to us that it has no money to ensure our participation and that it was too late to do anything, said team captain Anthony Pereira.
There are around 162 players from India representing the country at the Asian Para Games in eight streams athletics,swimming,table tennis,lawn tennis,fencing,power lifting and sitting volleyball. While 140 are government-sponsored,22 are individually-funded. The total cost of visa,entry fees,uniform and the flight ticket will be around Rs 50,000 a person,which means Rs 3-3.5 lakh for the team. The government has money to send ministers on foreign trips,but when it comes to the disabled who are courageously fighting odds and dreaming big,I dont know why they have a biased approach.
The rehabilitation centre officials had been writing to the Sports Ministry for months,but received no response. Director Dr (Lt Col) SP Jyoti said,Till 2006,it was the Indian Army that was funding us,but this year the Union Government has funded all teams,except this team. I fail to understand why.
The team members Pereira,V Nadar,TR Kulkarni,Prem Singh,CY Reddy,KN Reddy,K Shyamal Raju had all become paraplegics during their service with the Indian Army. They have represented the country at various national-level wheelchair basketball tournaments and over four FESPIC games,including Busan in 2002 and Malaysia in 2006. I remember our match against Australia in Busan in 2002. The wheelchairs they were playing with were hi-tech and I remember that the footpad of my chair was broken. I really wanted to play and decided to tie a rope to the chair to rest my foot on instead of the footpad. The referee objected,but later allowed me to play with the broken chair. We lost,but the fight we gave is something I will never forget, said sapper Taraji Kulkarni who joined the PRC after he turned a paraplegic following a vehicle accident on India-Pakistan border in 1983. I thought I would get to witness the cheers this time again; I will have to wait for another four years. And going by this years experience,I dont know whether we would get a chance next time.
Lance Naik Shyamal Raju has represented India three times at international competitions Busan FESPIC in 2002,Athens Paralympics in 2004 and Malaysia FESPIC in 2006. A three-tonne metal gate had fallen on him before the Republic Day parade in 1991,turning him a paraplegic. This is the first time we felt defeated; we had kept our hopes flying all these days.