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A year ahead of Tokyo 2020, Indian para-badminton players stand at crossroads

A year ahead of Tokyo 2020, Indian para-badminton players stand at crossroads

Imtiaz Azad

Published: 5 March 2019 2:41 AM GMT

It was back in September 2017, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced a program of 14 events - seven men's, six women's and one mixed for Tokyo 2020, where badminton will make its Paralympic debut. A total of 90 players (44 men and 46 women) will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles events. With just a year left for the Games, the Indian contingent is looking strong speculating several silverware-winning performances.

While para-sports preparations for Tokyo 2020 are at full pace, Indian para-shuttlers find themselves victimised to non-coordination between the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI). 

With a year left for the Olympics, BWF and IPC are working in tandem at all corners to inculcate professionalism into para-badminton and to create a welcoming atmosphere for the players. However, the BWF's decision on determining the authority of para-badminton in India has led to tension and chaos for Indian para-badminton athletes. Whether the choice of BWF is towards the interest of Indian players or more towards a political angle, The Bridge correspondent tries to find out.

The BWF is keen on bringing para-badminton under an able-body federation, which in India is BAI, an affiliate of BWF. Though BAI, in a letter jointly addressed to the players, BWF, PCI and Sports Authority of India (SAI), admitted that they don’t have the expertise to deal with para-badminton, it has shown interest to remain connected with para-badminton and would deal with the entries sent by PCI and make correspondence with international bodies.

PCI, an affiliate of IPC being the nodal agency for para-sports in India is also interested in taking back the charge of para-badminton as their fifth essential sport after para-athletics, para-swimming, para-shooting and para-wrestling.

The Bridge found out that there is another group of people working for a Bengaluru-based NGO, included within BAI, are also trying to claim the authority of para-badminton.

This sudden increase of interest among different stakeholders has developed after para-badminton was declared the part of 2020 Paralympic and seeing the recent success of the Indian para-shuttlers.

In theory, the account looks good for para-badminton, but not everything that glitters is gold. Practically, this coin has a much darker side. The utter confusion arising during the Para Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta owing to lack of coordination between two BAI and PCI were well discussed in the news. The debacle concluded with no National Camp being held for Indian para-badminton team. The team members had to arrange for their own practice and training camp. Two court cases followed the preceding, including one by Siddanna Sahukar of Karnataka who chased the injustice up to Supreme Court and another by Sanjeev Kumar of Punjab who filed the case in the Punjab High Court.

We spoke to a few promising para-badminton athletes from India who on the condition of anonymity spoke about their plight regarding the persisting state of affairs.

Player 1:

 “We are athletes with physical disabilities and PCI being the apex body knows more about disability and para-sports. We don’t understand about this experiment, especially at this stage when the road to 2020 Paralympic has opened new frontiers for us. BAI, on the one hand, accepted their dearth of knowledge about disabilities and its classes but on the other hand, they are not willing to leave its grip on para-badminton. They have outsourced a person from a Bengaluru-based NGO as convenor, whose remote is in hand of others who have different scores to settle with players and are more interested in creating their bossism. This stance is highly political. We have reached out to everyone, including BAI but no one is paying heed to our problems. Involving the press and media is the only way left for us to raise our voice.”

On 30th January 2019, SAI issued a press release announcing the name of para-athletes for the Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS). It, however, missed out on the names of the para-badminton athletes. On players representation, SAI officially tweeted that para-badminton could not be considered for TOPs since BAI representatives were not present in the meetings. Till date, para-badminton athletes are missing their position under the TOP scheme of the government.


Player 2:

 “BAI does not have even a single person who has the expertise to debate on the subject of para-badminton. They even don’t know our names and who is playing in which class. It is again the people from the Bengaluru-based NGO taking advantage of their positions and misguiding BAI that they have all expertise and support of players. Without having the insight on para-badminton, they are more interested in showing their hold on para-badminton and want to take credit for 2020 Paralympics.”

Recently, both BAI and PCI announced their schedules for the National Championship on their website. BAI puts a date of 5th to 7th March 2019, whereas PCI dates are from 15th to 17th March. The clout has created confusion among players on where to go and which one is official since both PCI and BAI are national sports federation recognised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Government of India.

Player 3

“We are all united and will not attend the event of BAI because it has the vested interested of the people belonging to the Bengaluru-based NGO. They might have misguided BAI that they have the support of players. Previously also we have boycotted their coaching and classification event at Bengaluru. They are working more towards their own welfare instead of the interest of para-badminton.”

Even after battling the plight from close quarters, the only silver lining is that the para-badminton athletes stand united. They have formed a Para-Badminton Players Commission to protect their interest.

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