Millennium Post

Specially-abled athletes.

It is time we broadened our perspectives and embraced the sportspersons who defy all odds to champion their passion, writes Ananya Das.

There are athletes who are able-bodied and have everything going their favourable way; for them, the world is their oyster and nothing seems to hinder their spirit. And then, there are players who aren't all that lucky. They've gone through hell and back to achieve what they set out to get and through all the chaos that they've been served, they come out victorious.

These are athletes with limited abilities which range from vision impairment, impaired muscle power like paraplegia, quadriplegia, leg-length difference, short stature and even intellectual disabilities. They're just like your regular athlete; but, the only difference is that they have had it harder than anyone else in the sports circuit.

A few weeks back when the Indian Blind Cricket Team won against Pakistan under the captaincy of Ajay Kumar Reddy to defend their title of the last time, the world hardly noticed. For a country where cricket is hosted on the pedestal of religion, this came across as a shock highlighting exactly what is wrong with us as a 'sports loving' country. Amongst the team members, one is a singer and another sells milk – meet the starting line-up of the Indian Blind Cricket Team. Through all the odd jobs they've had to endure, they have won the world title twice in a row and have beaten arch rivals Pakistan to keep the trophy with India.
These cricketers do not lead the same glamorous life that the likes of Virat Kohli or Hardik Pandya lead. In fact, they are forced to keep their second jobs because of the lack of recognition and a prevalent unemployment. Lack of recognition comes off rich because in the last four years, the team has won a T20 World Cup, two ODI World Cups, one Asian Cup and four Bilateral Series. Keeping all of this in mind, why is it that these players do not receive the same amount of media coverage or even an ounce of the otherwise devoted fan following? Despite all of their efforts to bring glory to their country, most of them don't have any permanent jobs.
It is not just the case with us Indians, this disparity in acknowledgement and appreciation is a global phenomenon and the prime example is the Paralympics. On paper, it is supposed to be the little brother of the great Games but in reality it has somewhat become the ignored step-brother of the Olympics. By the time the Paralympics take the stage after two weeks of the Olympics, the press loses interest, the visiting fans leave the stages and the host country goes back to mundane living. The celebrations are done and the athletes competing are left feeling demoralised and dispirited. In order to get the right type of equality, the two Games must be combined into a four-week long event where the players of both sides receive their fair share of coverage. When the global scenario changes for the disabled athletes, only then can the change be fairly localised and implemented.

In this world, every athlete aspires to represent their country in their own sporting discipline, one must not make that experience a sour one. It is essential to put the athlete first and not their disability – that is the first rule of even training a disabled athlete and the second one, perhaps the most important one, is to let the player feel like a leader instead of a patient. All of these efforts combined will hopefully help us change the lack of culture and credit that surrounds these athletes.

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