It can be reckoned that the remarkable result India has secured at the Tokyo Paralympics did not come about as a fluke. Sports feats are never achieved without a hard toil behind the scene. It has been a long journey since India’s first Paralympics outing in 1972. Originally scheduled for 2020, both Olympics and Paralympics were postponed due to the Chinese origin Covid-19 pandemic. That must have made practice sessions for these games all the more a daunting ask amid a strict lockdown that had begun in March-end last year. India’s show at the recent Olympics, better than so many previous outings, had a similar story of focus, perseverance, fortitude and determination. It goes without saying that the athletes primarily deserve the praise. After India bagged seven medals including a gold at the Olympics, the country’s para-athletes continued to bring home glory. With their achievements on the world stage, they have held aloft a beacon of hope for the 2.2% of India’s population that is physically challenged but never wanting in contributions to society. Finishing with 19 medals, a sum of five golds, eight silvers and six bronzes, this episode bettered the previous best of four medals at the Rio de Janeiro edition in 2016. Gold medallists Sumit Antil, Pramod Bhagat, Krishna Nagar, Manish Narwal and Avani Lekhara (who won a bronze too) are the best to tell what an uphill task they have accomplished in a country where no routine infrastructural facility is built keeping the ‘differently abled’ in mind.
However, the right approach of the government (the Paralympic Committee of India and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports) was critical, without which the country’s athletes had been chasing elusive medals even earlier — only to see their enthusiasm meet with frustration. The ministry’s flagship programme, Target Olympic Podium Scheme, launched in 2014, started showing results in 2018, after which the government spent about Rs 8.2 crore on the para-athletes and provided discipline-specific assistance such as foreign training, coaching camp, equipment and a stipend of Rs 50,000 per month for each player. Archery, badminton, boxing, hockey and wrestling were prioritised. Before Rio, the government’s CSR push had begun showing positive results, as funding from multinational companies and other large partners of the sports associations commenced, helping the participants who mostly hail from families of humble means. Then, the International Paralympic Committee had banned the PCI due to its internal feuds, which are now settled. Government functionaries, mostly objects of journalistic cynicism, were the backstage boys who most certainly have earned a part of the plaudits. Making India a livable place also for the disabled, not just the Paralympics participants among them, is their next homework.