By Roli S
Competition, competing, competitiveness have become an integral part of human progress. From competitive prices to competitive sports and competitive examinations, competition is everywhere. If there is competition, there is bound to be a winner and usually if one wins a competition when the degree of difficulty is higher, then there are more accolades and praise for the winner.
The Tokyo Paralympics 2020 are going on these days and, obviously, all the sports people participating in the events are fighting against the severest of odds and with the highest degrees of difficulties. We humans have some strange ways of categorising things, in general.
When following the Olympics, we glorify the medal winners for their struggle, hard work, dedication, resilience and give so much of importance to the victory and the victorious, but we have the smugness and audacity to outright under appreciate the efforts of a Paralympian, that is when the whole foundation of his or her being is built upon hardships and misfortune and in all cases not because of their own doing!
The degree of difficulty for a Paralympian is way higher than that of an Olympian, but, alas, how we love perfection! Perfect bodies, perfect scores and perfect what not! If we can demand that Hockey be given as much importance as Cricket in this country, then in the same loud voice why can’t we demand that the Paralympians be given the same status as Olympians?
Similar to Olympic Games, Paralympics are also held every four years, organised by the International Paralympic Committee, and participated in by more than 170 countries. In India, various non-para national federations are in charge of the games for the para games as well. For example, the Table Tennis Federation of India is also the governing body for para table tennis. There is a severe lack of awareness among India’s sporting federations about para games. A lot of them don’t conduct or organise para games, which hampers the growth and development of these sports. Issues with classification have a huge role to play in this. Moreover, there is a huge difference between the budget allocated for the Olympics and Paralympics. One hopes that the Indian para-athletes’ performance at the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 will change this and more para-athletes will be able to compete in the future.
Considering the technicalities and lack of enthusiasm for Paralympics in the country, Indian athletes have put up their best-ever performance in the history of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and have brought so much cheer to the people of the country in these trying times. So, when the Shooter Avania Lekhara, who is paralysed waist down due to an accident, created sporting history after becoming the first Indian woman to win a Paralympics gold medal, it should make people forget the malfunction of the rifle that happened during the Olympics for another Indian shooter. She took up the sport after reading the autobiography of Abhinav Bindra, who is India’s first individual Olympic gold medalist and we should rate her efforts no less that of her inspiration, shouldn’t we? Devendra Jhajharia won silver in the men’s F46 javelin throw event with a personal best effort of 64.35m. The F46 classification is for athletes with arm deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired passive range of movement in arms. Just by mentioning these handicaps I am thinking how special the effort of this Paralympian is, who has now become the second Indian ever to win three medals at the Paralympics. Should we rate his effort any less than that of any Olympian at all?
For smooth induction of para-athletes into various professional sports, it is very necessary to increase the number of qualified classifiers in India and the Sports Authority of India needs to boost opportunities for top athletes to qualify because disability-specific classification is necessary as the Paralympics cover all forms of disabilities, whether it’s vision impairment, orthopedic deficiency such as limb deficiency and amputation, muscular disability, and even intellectual disability.
What I learned after following the Paralympics seriously this time is that these Paralympians were not disabled, they were in fact super-abled. The Olympics is where heroes like Neeraj Chopra are made, the Paralympics is where heroes come to participate!
The Paralympics have for too long been considered the poor cousin of the Olympics. It’s always run after the main games and rarely gets anything like the media coverage but let’s not forget that the Paralympics, just like the Olympics, are built on a rich history. The legendary Sir Ludwig Guttmann is credited as the man responsible for founding the Paralympic Games and the Paralympic Movement as a whole. Guttmann was a huge believer in the power of sport to change lives. He believed sport was an excellent method of therapy for those with a physical disability to help them build physical strength and self-respect. After a struggle to receive recognition as the true equal of the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games now exist side by side with the Olympics with neither are Games considered more or less important than the other.
The Paralympics is an opportunity for us to see beyond the physical disabilities, to see the truly “super-abled” individuals and give ourselves and our family the opportunity to be inspired … and to transform our image of individuals with disabilities.
With 4,350 athletes competing across 22 different sports – including two new ones – in 539 events, Tokyo 2020 promises to be the biggest Paralympics yet. With the leadership support and encouragement in India as we are witnessing these days, I hope we will collectively as a nation change our disability in life of ‘bad attitude’ and look forward to many more victories and medals by our superbly-abled in future.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)