Callous babus set disabled athletes an obstacle course


Callous babus set disabled athletes an obstacle course
In the absence of proper ramps, athletes are forced to abandon their wheelchairs. (TOI photo: Umesh Kumar)
GHAZIABAD: Over 600 disabled athletes from across India, who are in Ghaziabad for the 15th National Para-Athletic Championship, have been crammed into a couple of partially constructed buildings that will serve as their dorms for the three-day meet. Forget being disabled-friendly, the buildings are unfurnished and don’t even have functional toilets and drinking water, forcing both male and female athletes to sleep on the floor and bathe and defecate in the open.

Organized by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), the championship lasting from March 20 to March 22, will serve as a qualifier for an international grand prix event for para-athletes that will be held in Delhi later this year.

On Saturday, a TOI team that visited the “living quarters” of the athletes — the campus of a private college in Madhuban-Bapudham area — saw how the athletes who have braved tremendous odds to reach this level using water from two tankers stationed in the lawn to both drink and bathe. Inside the building, crude wooden planks served as makeshift ramps, forcing some athletes to abandon their wheelchairs and drag themselves up the stairs.

There was just one toilet on each of the five floors. The washbasins in some of them did not have taps. The dorms were squalid and no cleaning staff visible.

“Female athletes have not had a bath for two days in a row,” said Mahesh Nehra (27), an athlete from Rajasthan who is participating in the 800m running event. “There is just one food stall. The food is neither good nor served on time. The dining area is not cleaned up after meals. We are being supplied the same bland food comprising rice, rotis and vegetables for the last two days. To get milk or fruits, we have to go to the nearest village, Duhai, which is around 2.5 km away.”

The place is at least 3.5 km off NH-58, midway between two small villages — Duhai and Matiyala. There are no public or private transportation facilities available for the athletes, many of whom have already represented the country at international events.

A toilet that is not disabled-friendly. (TOI Photo: Umesh Kumar)

There was no PCI representative at the venue. The sole clerk in the college office said he was busy preparing rolls for the BCom exam, which is being held in the same buildings during the day.

Each team has been provided a single room each, with mattresses and blankets spread on the floor. Most rooms are yet to be fitted with window frames. “On the first day, we slept on the floor. Windows had to be covered with old newspapers. The mattresses arrived only a day later,” said Kanhay Roy (20), an athlete from Jharkhand who is participating in the 100m sprint and javelin throw events.

The entire Rajasthan team, consisting of 40 members, both male and female, has been packed into a single mid-size hall. All 130 members of the Haryana contingent have been allocated a hall in a basement dank with water seepage.

“Even if a wheelchair bound athlete feels thirsty in the middle of the night, he has to fetch water from the tankers stationed in the lawns,” said Alimon (27), an athlete from Kerala participating in the triple jump and shot-put events.

“On the first day, an athlete had to wait for at least an hour for a bandage on a minor bruise,” said Jethalal Nakhumb (50), team Gujarat team escort.

Pradeep Raj, general secretary of the Delhi-based Association for Disabled People, said the PCI had been doing this with impunity for several years. “Why should the sports ministry give funds to such an organization? The PCI has been organizing games in the same shoddy manner ever since they were recognized by the sports ministry in 2006. In Ghaziabad, they did not even pick up the players from the railway station. For the international event scheduled to be held in Delhi in May, the Union ministry of social justice has apparently set aside a substantial sum as grant. But going by past record, players are not going to benefit from these funds,” Raj said.

When contacted, Rajesh Tomar, president of PCI, admitted that it had been brought to his notice that the games have been poorly organized and managed. But he blamed another official for the abysmal arrangements. “The organizing secretary of the event is to blame for this fiasco. I was at the sports ministry in Delhi on Saturday to address some issues pertaining to prize money for the para-athletes but am rushing to Ghaziabad immediately. I had initially objected to the choice of venue given that some technical specifications did not match the needs of the athletes. But my objections were overruled by other members of the committee. A panel %will be set up on Sunday to% examine the reasons behind the mismanagement of the event,” he said.

Sports ministry shocked at apathy towards para-athletes

The sports ministry on Sunday expressed shock and concern at the apathy shown by the 15th National Para-Athletic Championship organisers wherein the participants have been denied proper accommodation at the event.

The three-day championship is being held at Ghaziabad, near Delhi, since March 20. Over 600 disabled athletes have been provided accommodation in two partially constructed buildings in the campus of a private college.

The buildings, apart from not being disabled-friendly, are unfurnished and don’t have functioning toilets and even drinking water.

The despicable living conditions have forced the athletes to sleep on the floor and bathe and defecate in the open, according to media reports.

In a statement, the ministry said it is looking into the matter and, if required, would not hesitate in issuing a comprehensive advisory stipulating minimum standards that need to be maintained in terms of boarding, lodging and other facilities to be made available to athletes so that such incidents do not recur.

The government reiterated that it is committed to inclusive sports development and accords equal priority to both able-bodied and disabled-sport athletes.

It added that it provides liberal assistance to all National Sports Federations (NSFs), including the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), in organising national camps for the selection and preparation of athletes for participation in international events.

The statement said that every NSF is expected to conduct events in a professional manner, maintaining at least the minimum standards expected of an event being held at the national level and the government can only provide financial assistance.

It is the task of the organisers to mobilise support from different sources and conduct the tournament in a proper manner, the statement added.