All of us have been appalled and distressed at the manner in which over 600 of differently-abled athletes from across India have been treated during the 15th National Para-Athletic Championship at Ghaziabad. Leave alone ramps and other friendly facilities that any civil society now takes for granted, the athletes have had to do without showers and water and food and generally endure conditions that even the able-bodied humans would find hard to tackle. And this, for athletes who have come to win medals, 'against-all-odds' as our exalted ministers would parrot in speeches, tirelessly.
To be fair to the minister, he has made all the right noises as soon as the story was first broken by the TOI on Sunday. He has promised to take action too.
But, does he have it in him to reign in the all powerful babu-industrialists-politicos nexus that has vice like grip over every sporting federation/body in this country, almost invariably at the cost of the sport itself. Given the past, only a fool would believe that anything good would come out of his ranting. The federations, and those who play with the lives of our athletes, always did and would continue to run them as their fiefdom. Media would shout and forget, but their shenanigans must continue, the sport and the sportspersons be damned.
Will we ever learn? Will our sports ever be out of the clutches of paunchy and raunchy babus? Seems unlikely, and this, despite them making countless visits abroad to learn 'how to manage' sports, on our, the taxpayers money. And if it comes to facilities and caring for those with special needs, forget it! Remember the Commonwealth games? It was supposed to have facilities for the differently-abled, but we all know it was a sham. Most money was spent on completing a formality, with zero scientific input. Freshly laid footpaths had tactile tiles for the visually impaired, but you would often find them leading into bushes or trees or dead ends. Or, there would be ramps for the diabaled at the end of footpaths in the Lutyens zone of Delhi that had a gradient where even a 4×4 would've struggled to climb. It was nothing but our hard-earned money down the drain by people who didn't have to work hard for that money.
Look around, the story repeats itself in every federation. Most who run them have almost nil interest in the sport itself. Given the roadblocks that are there for an athlete in almost every sphere, it is a miracle that we even get to the stage of having so many who do our nation proud. If they do well, it is despite these corrupt sports administrators, not because of them. With that in mind alone, one feels like saluting these athletes' and their achievements even more!
We ourselves have launched the Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA) on March 21. Our intention is very clear. We want to reward our athletes who toil hard and shed their sweat and blood to be able to reach a level where they can make us proud. We have picked a jury whose credentials are impeccable. They would ensure there is no favouritism or anything that mar most other such awards.
But we can only do as much. It is a tribute to the resilience of these sterling athletes that they reach where they do. Imagine what the level would be if there were genuine support from the system that exists, at least on paper, with the sole intent of nurturing, discovering and promoting budding talent in their respective categories/fields.
So, Mr. Minister, would be great if you took your angst at the treatment meted out to our Para-athletic championship athletes, beyond a series of tweets. Take it to its logical end. As I said, people have liked the noises you have made post this news and the alacrity with which you sought information on what, where, how, etc. Just do enough to take the jokers responsible for this to task, in an exemplary manner. It would not only give confidence to athletes that their minister in charge cares for them, but the rest of the federations too would get a signal that they can't take anything for granted.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.