The inhumane and humiliating treatment meted out to paralympic athletes in Gaziabad during the 15th National Para-Athletic Championship has caught the eye of the nation and brings to the fore many sports related issues of disabled people. This is not the first time that sports rights of disabled people have been sidelined. Also, there is minimal understanding and awareness of the rights and facilities for para-athletes, as they are uninformed of who to approach, how and where to get equipments and so on.
There is apparently an unit of the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) in Assam, which has no office space or contact number, and is quite non-functional in nature. Infact, Shishu Sarothi enquired with Mr. Chandrashekhar, Secretary General, PCI, sometime in the middle of last year, about the status of Para Olympics in Assam, who are its members and details of its activities and was duly asked to contact the state representative. However, the same never transpired, as the representative was too pre-occupied with other engagements. Arman Ali, Executive Director, Shishu Sarothi said that “Sports for disabled people is also a major right and commitment is required to take forward the task entrusted upon the PCI. The word ‘para’ means ‘parallel’ and Paralympics is no second to Olympics. In the world, there is only one event matching up to the stature of the Olympics, and that is, Paralympics, which celebrates the rights of persons with disabilities and encourages participation of disabled people in mainstream sporting activities at all levels.”
Special Olympics Bharat is the nodal agency for implementation of the Scheme of Sports and Games for Persons with Disabilities, under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. Under this scheme, the Special Olympics Bharat holds joint sport events from time to time, where PCI para-athletes also participate. However, as no athlete assessment for the state has been done by PCI, athletes from Assam have been excluded by and large in such events
As has been reiterated and reaffirmed through various international documents, right to sport is an important right for all people including disabled people and “Every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education and sport, which are essential for the full development of his personality. The freedom to develop physical, intellectual and moral powers through physical education and sport must be guaranteed within the educational system and in other aspects of social life.” [International Charter on Physical Education and Sport UNESCO 1978 and Comprehensive National Sports Policy 2007 – MYAS]
Kandarpa Nath, Special Olympics Chief Coach of Assam also observed that “it is only because of the apathy of the authorities, that disabled athletes are deprived of proper facilities, financial aid and sports equipments. It is not that we do not have talented and capable disabled athletes – it is just the lack of information, guidance, support and mindset which keeps them behind. I hope that the Ghaziabad incident would act as a catalyst in taking forward the issues of disabled athletes in the state.”
This viewpoint is shared by the disabled athletes of the region, who have expressed dissatisfaction at the way that they are being treated at the hands of the Sports authorities of the State.
It is high time that the attitude of the authorities change and, persons with disabilities are not treated as second class citizens. As the motto for the United Nations Convention on Rights of persons with Disabilities goes, ‘nothing about us, without us’ – the need of the hour is for a truly representative body of athletes. “We at Shishu Sarothi would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the authorities to de-recognize defunct, incompetent and corrupt Paralympic Committee in Assam and that a new body should be formed with disabled athletes and other stakeholders with a vision to empower the athletes to reach their optimum potential,” says Arman Ali, Executive Director, Shishu Sarothi.