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India’s wheelchair basketball players end 2020 on a winning note

December 10, 2020 04:25 pm | Updated December 12, 2020 10:31 am IST

With the national event, Virtually Unstoppable Series Challenge, concluded recently, the country’s wheelchair basketball players used this year to celebrate more than just their sporting acumen

Suresh Kumar Karki, player from the West Zone

This festive season, wheelchair basketball athletes have one more reason to celebrate — the recently concluded national tournament, held online, for the very first time.

The Virtually Unstoppable Series Challenge, conducted by the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) comprised events in four categories: art, quiz, fitness and sports skills, and preliminary rounds were conducted online across five zones: North, East, West, South and Northeast. With over 185 entries, the competition was keen.

The category that invited the most varied and interesting submissions was artistic expression. Bengaluru-based Arun Lakshmi Sriram, a chartered accountant, who moonlights as a stand up-comic, judged the event. “We were looking at art from the heart, where athletes could express themselves in an informal video, which is easier than performances on stage,” says Arun. A five-member team across the West zone clinched that prize with entries across music, art and jewellery making.

The quiz was a mixed bag of technical questions from the world of wheelchair basketball and general sport-related minutiae, while fitness and sports skills categories required specific challenges to be performed, while on a wheelchair. South Zone outperformed the other teams at sports skills and the final quiz event, while the North Zone bagged the fitness gold. South Zone took home cash prizes of ₹25,000 for the Overall Championship, followed by ₹20,000 for the runners-up, West Zone and North Zone in third place won ₹15,000.

Founder-president of the WBFI, P Madhavi Latha was thrilled with the outcome of the event. She says, “Teams from all the zones won prizes at the national challenge! We saw tremendous improvement in players in the Northeast Zone in the online quiz category. In fact, they went from the bottom of the scoreboard to the top three. Our players from Jammu and Kashmir, in the North Zone, despite their sketchy 2G connection, participated in the final quiz event, which was via a live streaming link. I think engaging players through virtual challenges helped them augment their knowledge about the use of multiple digital platforms.”

The grand finale quiz event, on November 29, was hosted by Sumanth C Raman, who holds the distinction for presenting the BSNL Sports Quiz on Doordarshan ’s Podhigai TV channel, India’s longest running quiz programme with over 800 episodes.

Hari Prabhu Nammalvar, from Coimbatore, says, “The final was poised like a nail-biting cricket match, and it was such an honour to be in the same frame as Mr. Raman, someone I have admired on TV, for so long. This was my first WBFI event, and despite being virtual, it really helped me understand the technical nuances of the game, since we were coached by national and international mentors. I can’t wait to see the players in person, now that we have struck up a friendship online.”

Kunilata Barik, a player from the East Zone

The event that commenced early September, connected players spread across State lines, and the WBFI also reached out to families facing financial difficulties, sponsoring care kits across the country. Mike Frogley, National Academy Director, Wheelchair Basketball Canada, was all praise for the virtual outreach. “I cannot tell you how impressed I am that you have looked for ways to support people in the WBFI family in these difficult times. I have not heard of any other federation helping their members with funding for people who are going through economic hardship. That sends a message that I always tell our athletes, ‘Take care of the team and the team will take care of you’. It is about just refusing to let something fall short, and the sheer force of will, to get something new going.”

Wheelchair basketball athletes are currently fanned out across the nation, practising at gymnasiums and homes, as sports facilities slowly limp back to normalcy. The players are looking forward to practising as a team, as soon as the cloud of the pandemic lifts, and it’s safe to play in the same court.

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