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'Forced to beg in Berlin': How Kanchanmala Pande may have taken advantage of public sympathy

Forced to beg in Berlin: How Kanchanmala Pande may have taken advantage of public sympathy
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By

Deepshikha Chatterjee

Published: 7 March 2018 4:42 AM GMT
As a country, India is predominantly divided into two kinds of people, speaking strictly out of an anthropological context. There are people who sensationalise an incident to such an extent that facts, somehow, get more and more obscure which each passing moment. And then there are those who would take the time to verify claims before accepting them as gospel. The latter kind is few. On July 12, 2017, the country woke up to some shocking news. Reports worldwide seemed to imply that an Indian para-athlete had been forced to beg for money in Berlin because the Paralympic Committee of India had refused to help her out with sufficient funds before her trip to the city. What made matters worse was that this particular para-athlete had gone to represent India at the Para-Swimming Championships. The audience was naturally shocked. After all, it hurt the reputation of the country if we cannot keep our athletes happy. In addition to that, the para-athlete in question, Kanchanmala Pande, is completely blind. How apathetic does one have to be to give such little respect to a woman who had battled the odds to be where she currently was. Back in India, a typical blame game resulted out of this incident with the Sports Authority of India and the Paralympic Committee of India trying to pass off responsibility to each other. All of this had gone on for a week when Kanchanmala's entire story came crashing down.
On July 19th, a report in Firstpost credibly debunked Kanchanmala's claims of resorting to begging over a lack of official funding and questioned, instead, how sentiments were often misused by athletes to garner public sympathy and attention. This may be one of the most controversial claims when it comes to the Indian sporting sphere because not only does India love to celebrate its athletes, we seem to have made a trend out of blaming federations. The incident and tournament that Kanchanmala had been a part of contained a total sanctioned amount Rs 4.28 lakh that by the Ministry of Youth Affairs an Sports to the PCI for the Berlin-hosted event. Out of that, it released Rs 3.21 lakh as 75 percent in the form of advance payment for an official team of seven- five swimmers, an escort, and a coach. Before traveling to Berlin, Kanchanmala had taken a loan of INR 5 lakhs to aid and abet her expenses during the entire trip. What is worth noting here is the Government sanctioned money of 4.28 lakhs for the total team was less than the amount Kanchanmala had with her while she was in Germany. Where, then, does the possibility of begging even arise? Today, the Paralympic Committee of India announced its decision in a disciplinary hearing against the para-swimmer where she was accused of falsification and exaggeration. The counts she was charged with spreading misinformation about included several other complaints by her at the time of the incident. For instance, she had complained that the PCI appointed coach who had accompanied her to Berlin was not available when she needed him. She had also claimed that an error on the PCI's part led to her name showing up in the list for 50m breaststroke instead of 100m which was her event. A 90 Euro registration fee had to be paid at the venue which was her fourth point of complaint. To all the above, Kanchanmala has found an easy way out. Her official statement in the PCI's disciplinary hearing remained that she "deeply regretted" the way the media reported her story and denied all quotes that had been assigned to her. Now, she said that tarnishing the reputation of PCI and her country was never her intention. Apparently, she had denied her allegations the very next day after making them, but none of the concerned media houses chose to publish it except for a remote local outlet called the "Nav Bharat Times." Here's the thing. The author had spoken to Kanchanmala's husband Vinod Deshmukh back when
the incident
had first happened. Far from claiming misquotation, he had stood by his wife's claims and went so far as to encourage the maximum media outrage possible. There was no demeanour which at any point suggested that the statements needed to be retracted or that retraction was even necessary. So, who should we believe? Blaming the media is the easy way out. But that is a point to be discussed later. The burning issue here is that we, as an audience, absolutely must acknowledge that this is not the first time athletes have resorted to emotional provocation to garner public support. In fact, the Rio 2016 experience is full of such stories. In the time leading up to the Olympics, sprinter Dutee Chand was
quoted
by several media outlets as saying that she needed a pair of running shoes for the Games which she could not afford. The incident gained massive support from Indians. It does not matter how the athletes train for the rest of the year. This was the Olympics. The outrage was necessary and even called for. However, when reliable people confronted Dutee about her claim despite receiving enough money, she admitted to being misquoted and misrepresented by the media. But the incident that rocked Indian sports was OP Jaisha. The Indian marathon runner at Rio 2016 fainted at the end of her 42km race at the Rio Olympics and was widely quoted as saying that she "almost died" because officials from the Athletics Federation of India were not present to provide water to her in the course of her race. Now let's look at the facts. Standard International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules state that refreshment is provided to all athletes. It also specifies that water and refreshment stations shall be provided at intervals of approximately 5 km (or shorter, subject to weather conditions) for all long-distance runs. Additionally, each athlete may also have their own stations where they are allowed to decide where and what refreshment should be provided to them. What was curious about OP Jaisha's retelling of the story was that she waited until the Games got over to come up with her complaint. What was even more baffling was that Kavita Raut, her fellow marathon competitor, claimed that the Athletics Federation of India had consulted with her regarding personalised refreshment stalls. Why would the AFI care about the well being of one runner and not Jaisha who, incidentally, was higher ranked than Raut back then and thus with higher hopes of victory? If things happened indeed as Jaisha described., if "all athletes but her" had been catered to with refreshments, she was free to file an official complaint to the IAAF on the grounds of negligence. Her story is yet to conclude though with scheduled disciplinary hearings regarding all her claims. Coming back to Kanchanmala, the exact point of collective outrage was that she had to resort to begging on a German tram after it was found that she and her sister who was accompanying her were not carrying enough money to pay for a ticket. Also read:
World Para-Swimming Championships: The standings after Day 3
First of all, the official website of the tournament in question says that shuttles for the participants were readily available. So why was a journey by tram even needed? According to her claims, the PCI had then told her that her expenses in the German city would be reimbursed after she returned from the competition. So, if indeed she was low on funds, shouldn't that issue have been raised before she traveled to Berlin? If the athlete had a clear understanding of the PCI's terms, is the complaint then justified? The narrative that everything going wrong should ultimately be the responsibility of the Federation is one which has seen long and arduous support from the Indian media. The athletes are heroes, and more often than not they have fought enormous odds to reach wherever they have. But it is not the media's responsibility to back a story just because it has the potential to tug at feelings.
Also read: 
The sexist divide in sports broadcasting Journalism and news, in general, has been called the Fourth Estate.The only responsibility we have is to report facts rather than sensationalism. Taking an athlete at their word just because we take pride in hero-worshipping them is often not the way out. In cases like this, it's always convenient for the athlete to say that they were misquoted- something Kanchanmala Pande did today. A little time, a little energy spent researching a piece rather than dealing with the pressure of being the first to break the news. That's how good journalism should be. And its only then that athletes like Jaisha or Kanchanmala will no longer be able to take advantage of the media in general and public sympathy in particular.
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