A specific incident paved the way for the Aditya Mehta Foundation to come into existence.
I was gleeful after winning two silver medals at the Asia Para-cycling Championships in 2014. But the happiness did not last long. I met the former Paralympics Committee of India with a request to include para-cycling in its list of sports but was turned down without any convincing response.
It was a tough task for me to go all the way to Delhi numerous times and wait for long hours. However, I did not let that bother me as I kept waiting for the moment to hold the Indian flag high at the Paralympics. Unfortunately, I could not achieve my mission and it gave me a sense of sorrow to realise that there was no representation of the sport in the PCI. Later, I realised that I was not alone – other para-athletes were also waiting for a chance to represent India through various sports. It was then when I decided not to let down the hopes of us differently abled, who despite their disabilities are striving hard to contribute to the nation.
Zilch reward for medals
There were many instances when these para-athletes were left out because of insufficient funds to participate in Championships like the Union Cyclist Internationale’s Para-cycling Track World Championships, the Verola Paracycling Cup, the Para-cycling European Cup and many more. Participation in international championships would have earned them points that would have added to their chances to participate in the Paralympics. The participants could even have managed, if at least, cash rewards for their respective medals had been provided to them.
Quite a few para-athletes have not received their cash prizes yet. Anand Kumar, who won bronze medals at the Asia Cup in 2008 and the Championships in 2012 and gold at the World Championships in 2015, is one of them. Mark Dharmai, a bronze medallist at the world championships in 2013 and 2015 is another and there are many more.
In a country where an Olympic medallist is given Rs 20 crore for winning a medal as encouragement, we would be grateful if the government spends equally to provide better infrastructure and other aids for the immensely talented para-athletes. It would tremendously help them meet their expenses for orthotic needs like an artificial limb or a wheelchair.
It was a disheartening experience for the para-athletes from our Foundation’s extended family to come back home from the Irish Para-Badminton International in July this year with teary eyes and medals in their hands. This sorrow in their hearts was because of their unrecognised success and helplessness at not being able to go further ahead, as para-badminton is not a part of the list of sports that fall under the aegis of the PCI. Many para-athletes complain saying that only people who manage to influence the members of the Sports Authority of India, are able to make it to the Paralympics.
Concrete steps need to be taken
The newly formed Paralympic Committee of India should work to improve matters for the upliftment of para-athletes. It will be advisable to associate a para-athlete and/or a bureaucrat with a clean profile who understands the disability sector and is really passionate about working towards it.
Despite their disabilities, these para-athletes have already won many medals in both Asian and world championships. They can, surely do wonders if provided with better infrastructure, financial aid and unbiased support.
There are many sports that are not represented by the PCI in Paralympics like wheelchair lawn tennis, wheelchair fencing, para-cycling, para-badminton and other para sports. The inclusion of these sports can give a chance for many para-athletes to earn their living. There cannot be a more disheartening situation than receiving a letter from the Sports Authority of India saying that “We are happy to certify your contingency in Internationals at no cost to the government”.
After the establishment of our organisation, which is the only NGO in India that works to help para-athletes earn dignity through sports by conducting various training camps and providing high end equipment, we were able to achieve nine international medals within ten months. But with support, I can assure more than a hundred medals in the next Paralympics.
Furthermore, when there are special quotas for athletes and individuals with disability in government organisations like the Railways, why not for para-athletes as well?
Aditya Mehta won two silver medals at the 2014 Para Asian Cycling Championship and also entered the Limca Book of Records in 2013 for riding the fastest 100 km with an artificial limb. He founded the Aditya Mehta Foundation in 2014, which seeks to help para-athletes rebuild their lives.