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Paralympics – Where Indian Heroes Arrive!

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The humongous success of Indian Paralympians who soared at Tokyo with 19 medals is a result of government's interventions, private sectors' efforts and sheer determination of the athletes.

By ASHWANI RATHI


The nation cannot be more proud about its paralympians who have not just displayed a great performance at the Tokyo Paralympics but have also smashed all records of India in the games. The campaign of the 54 member contingent ended on sky nine with an unparalleled 19 medals, including five gold. India signed off 24th in the overall tally, a feat that was unimaginable before the games had begun.

'Spirit in Motion' which is the motto of the Games was best visible with the Indian team that scripted history almost every day. The most spectacular was the last day of the games when ace shuttler Krishna Nagar won gold after SuhasYathiraj signed off his brilliant run with a silver. Out of the contingent, 17 of them left with medals around their necks.

The level of their performance can be deciphered from the mere fact that since 1968, India had won a total of 12 medals and in this Paralympics, the team has amassed 19. "Phenomenal Rise of Indian Paralympians! A New Era has Begun," says a rejoiced Anurag Thakur, Sports Minister.

Shooters Avani Lekhara and Singhraj Adana finished on the podium twice. Lekhara, a mere 19-years-old became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal; though she later added a bronze in 50m rifle 3 positions.

India saw the first medal in archery through Harvinder Singh in the form of bronze while the first medal in table tennis was won by waist-down paralysed Bhavinben Patel, a silver, and also a remarkable two gold medals in badminton through short of stature Nagar and polio-stricken Pramod Bhagat. Shooter Manish Narwal also had a podium finish.

In track and field, we must not forget the legends of DevendraJ hajharia who won a silver in javelin throw and Mariyappan Thangavelu whose high jump won the hearts of all the Indians.

Javelin thrower Sumit Antil not just did a repeat of Neeraj Chopra by striking a gold but he also shattered his own world record. Praveen Kumar, who is just 18, became India's youngest medalist with a silver in high jump and his jump is now an Asian record. Sundar Singh Gurjar also won a medal in the javelin throw.

A Joint Effort of Govt.; Private Bodies

The sports fraternity has received support from the government like never before. The entire contingent of the Paralympics that consisted 54-members–all of them were part of the flagship Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) of the Central Government. This year only, the Sports Minister has informed the lower house of the parliament that the Centre has spent more than Rs 8.2 crore on para-sports from 2018-19 to 2021-22.

Efforts by the private sector, individuals and better training have helped the contingent not just do better but surprise the world with their jaw dropping performances. The government created exclusive arenas for our players, offered better incentives and ensured that a level playing field for para and able-bodied athletes is there. Just before the games had begun, ace javelin thrower Sumit Antil who broke three world records on way to gold held that his training and exposure wasn't too different from Indian Neeraj Chopra who bagged gold on the final day of the Olympics.

Sumit, with other paralympians, got a chance to train in Finland with other athletes like Neeraj Chopra in 2018. He mentioned that paralympians were treated the same as able-bodied athletes. He later also got a chance to compete in Italy, France, Tunisia that helped understand different conditions. He received Rs 7 lakh prosthetic blade, bio-mechanics support and equipment through the efforts of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Go Sports Foundation, a well-known NGO.

Funding at Right Juncture

Besides, the spending was athlete-specific and came at the right time. Different specially-abled players were able to make the best out of the government funding and private aid. The Sports Ministry funded the installation of a computerised digital target inside the house of shooter Avani Lekhara. The ministry also paid for the cost of the air rifle, ammunition and accessories. One would be amazed that under the TOPS programme, wheelchair bound Bhavina Patel got an updated robot as a table tennis practice partner and this helped her during the coronavirus led lockdown. She went ahead in Tokyo to smash for a silver in the finals. She defeated World No 3 Zhang Miao in her chase in the singles event.

A crucial role was also played by the public-private partnerships. GoSports Foundation has been associated with para-athletes since 2008. In 2016 the organisation was affiliated with 11 of the 19 para-athletes for Rio.

The NGO was in proper coordination with the Sports Ministry so that there was no duplication of the efforts on the same athletes. GoSports’ executive director Deepthi Bopaiah mentions that they did not look after shooter Avani’s equipment, so the NGO paid for her coaching and training. For Sumit Antil also, they looked after his prosthetics. Bopaiah informed that out of the total number of players they had supported, ten have earned medals and that’s quite astounding. 

Support, Motivation and Reward

Just like Prime Minister Narendra Modi had motivated and supported the Olympians a month ago, he had maintained better communication with the athletes at the Paralympics. He held a phone conversation with most of the medalists.

Now Anurag Thakur has made a vital announcement that the Prime will host the Paralympians very soon. Hailing the Prime Minister for devoting time with the athletes, Thakur said, "He (PM) had hosted the Olympians when they arrived in India and now he is going to host the Paralympians as well."

Amidst all, the state governments have also showered no less praise and rewards for the Paralympic medalists than for the Olympic medalists. Like Neeraj Chopra, javelin sensation Sumit Antil gets Rs 6 crore from the Haryana government for javelin gold. 

Manish Narwal and Singhraj Adana too will receive Rs 4 crore. The Rajasthan government will give Rs 3 crore to Avani, Rs 2 crore to Devendra Jhajharia and Rs 1 crore to Sundar Singh Gurjar. Among others, Tamil Nadu chief minister Stalin has announced a cash reward of Rs 2 crore for high jump silver medalist Mariyappan Thangavelu.

BOX - Kiren Rijiju – Man behind the Mission

Sports experts are of the opinion that Kiren Rijiju, the ex-Sports Minister, has the most vital role to play in the success of Indian athletes in both Olympics and Paralympics. Rijiju was appointed to this office in 2019. 

Kiren Rijiju wanted medals for the country in big events. He motivated the athletes personally, undertook the review of all preparations and promoted all big-or-small happenings in different domains of sports and the resulting success stories. He actually motivates an entire generation of sportspersons. Many see this as a natural instinct of Rijiju as he himself is a fitness freak and loves to play different sports when time would permit. He is credited with initiation of the Fit India Movement that has become a sensation throughout the country. 

He rewarded every sports achiever immediately to boost the confidence of the players. Prize money was increased and more recognition were accorded; the Asian Games winners were treated with huge hearts. More awards were conferred to those who deserved it – be it Arjuna Award or Dronacharya. During his tenure, the sports budget increased to more than Rs 2800 crores and Kehlo India program was allocated a reasonable Rs 291 crores. 

His efforts nurtured some of the best talents in India – Meerabai Chanu, Neeraj Chopra, Vinesh Phogat and so on. More than half of the Paralympic medalists have benefitted from the efforts of the ex-Sports Minister. KirenRijiju’s efforts and engagement will go down a long way in the history of Indian sports; he had a short but most powerful stint as Sports Minister.

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