Sports is an easy and healthy way for the physically challenged to bond more, see the world and grow in confidence

Can the challenged be champions? Actually, the physically challenged can not only do well in sports, but they also need sports. That is because, sports lets them get the much-needed physical exercise that the rest of us take for granted. Sports encourages them to step out of home and meet people, bond, and see the world. Sports lets them grow in confidence, get recognition and show the world that they are capable of being competitive professionals in any line of work. In a sense, sports empowers the physically challenged to participate in life.

For inclusion

In fact, research conducted found that one in three U.K. adults changed their attitude towards the physically challenged after the 2012 London Paralympics. Closer home, witnessing the exploits of disabled swimmers at the 2012 National Paralympics Championship inspired Scope International in the city to increase the number of the physically challenged on its payroll to 100, and went on to win the prestigious 15th Helen Keller award from NCPEDP.

“Seeing us compete professionally, people get the confidence that we can handle jobs as effectively as others,” says P. Madhavi Latha who uses a wheelchair. She is an associate vice-president in her firm, a national Paralympic swimming champion and the founder of Yes We Too Can (YWTC), an organisation that works in the disability sector.

“We talk about social inclusion, and inclusion through sports is very easy,” says P. Sai Krishnan, orthopedically challenged techie, award-winning photographer and now training in wheelchair basketball. Inclusion and empowerment through sports is the rationale behind the international seminar on disability sports and social inclusion being held in the city today. The seminar is organised by the Paralympic Swimming Association of Tamil Nadu, in collaboration with Choice International, the U.K. and YWTC.

In fact, Sai is among those who come together every Saturday and train in wheelchair basketball at SDAT’s Nehru Park sports complex, and target winning a medal for India at the forthcoming 2016 Rio Paralympics. When possible, they train under visiting coaches. For the rest, they take instructions over Skype or simply practise on their own. Currently, with just three wheelchairs available, the going is tough, but these budding champions are inspired to make themselves and India proud.

The 2012 London Paralympics saw 4,237 athletes from 164 countries, but there were only 10 participants from India. Organisations such as YWTC are now trying to improve this. The focus now is on building competitive teams in categories such as Boccia and wheelchair basketball, besides swimming. “There are a range of Paralympic sports such as judo, fencing etc, but we have to make a start somewhere,” explains Madhavi. Boccia is a ball game played by the severely challenged — even those who can move only their mouths or necks.

Target the Paralympics

Madhavi recommends that the challenged focus on Paralympic sports rather than others, because playing Paralympic sports would let them participate and get recognition at the State-, national- and international-levels. Likewise, curriculum related to Paralympic sports should be included in the physical education curriculum of schools, so as to help instructors train challenged kids in regular or special schools.

For its part, the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu has been helpful, providing free access to its stadium and pool facilities for the challenged aged below 16, and a 50 per cent discount for those over 16.

But the mission to make India a key player in the forthcoming Paralympics is huge. This needs support from all quarters — such as corporate funding for equipment such as sports wheelchairs and infrastructure, coaches (regular coaches can help train the challenged, as the rules are only a little different), besides enthusiastic public support. For details, mail or 9841609601

A free, two-day wheelchair basketball training session will be held on February 26 and 27 at JN Indoor Stadium in the city, with training provided by Michael Rosenkrantz, a wheelchair basketball coach. Despite its misleading name, wheelchair basketball is played not just by those on wheelchairs, but also others such as those who use crutches, etc. For details, call 98416-09601