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How many medals must Paralympians fetch for brands to make a beeline?

As PV Sindhu and Neeraj Chopra graces countless fancy magazine covers, the Paralympians are a no-show in the brand spotlight. We wonder why.

Avani Lekhara becomes first Indian female shooter to win gold at either an Olympics or a Paralympics

Avani Lekhara, gold medallist at the Tokyo Paralympics (Source: Getty)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 26 Oct 2021 4:18 AM GMT

If the Tokyo Olympics was a breathtaking spectacle for Indians courtesy Neeraj Chopra's golden stunt, the Tokyo Paralympics was a full-fledged medal shower as it rained precious metals in abundance. While the tally at the Olympics stood at an all-time high of 7 medals for India, the Paralympics count was a whopping double figure - 19, yet the aftermath of the two Games show a gravely different picture.

In India, just as Bollywood stars and cricketers are worshipped on the same mantle as God Almighty, Olympic stars get this treatment post every Games where they outdo themselves with their heroics. The beeline of brands in its aftermath, scouring after these athletes seem only a natural 'next' page of the narrative of the athlete.

As PV Sindhu has her face on the magazine covers of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue does an all-too-classy shoot with Lovlina Borgohain, Mirabai Chanu and the double-Olympic medal winning medallist and Spice gets hold of Neeraj Chopra - one wonders where the Krishna Nagar, Avani Lekhara, Pramod Bhagat, Sumit Antil, Devendra Jhajharia or even, Bhavina Patel have gone?

Paralympians and the limelight that fluctuates

Sumit Antil (Source: Getty)

Just as there is a lull before a storm - the Tokyo Paralympics did not see as much uproar as the Olympics in its preceding days but the Paralympians came and they conquered. The storm was stirred, records were broken and created, history was made a puppet in their hands and then the medals arrived - in hues of every kind and the echo of applause and felicitations later, all is quiet.

Like players in a theatre who only have a character role with a very defined arc and limitations of growth, our Paralympians came, saw, and conquered and left without even being ushered in for a lingering curtain call. Sure, the paps greeted them after the show - "Well done!", "You've done us proud!" and a lot of extra credit doled out because of them being Paralympians and then that is it - they left. Brands took the opportune moment as well to roll out content that were topical and trending - and then shush, almost mum.

Where is the so-called aftercare that we are extending (may I say, over-extending by now as the glare in equality is stark) to the Olympians and hardly any to the Paralympians?

The limelight business is a tricky one - and like moths to light, the limelight also finds the successful athletes and hovers around them. Albeit, there are a few clauses and conditions attached to this. While we see Cred and the Femina's approach the Olympians, there is no such hullabaloo around the Paralympic medallists who seem to have had their moment in the sun - an Avani Lekhara, a Mariyappan Thangavelu, a Sharad Kumar or a Harvinder Singh is absent from the broad in-your-face visibility.

However, this isn't about how we treat our athletes as much as it is about the partisan politics our mind plays when we extend our celebrations to an Olympic athlete and a Paralympic athlete. Call it the many guiles of social conditioning but the real root lies there, in the kind of attitude we have fostered towards Paralympians and Olympians - the limelight, if we are to direct it as the mass, will also shake nervously and ultimately, more often than not, rest on the 'able-bodied' Olympian.

Brand woes - who decides what sells and what doesn't?

Pramod Bhagat (Source: Getty)

Winning a medal is one thing but making yourself a brand based on the medal is a whole different ball game and doesn't stem only from singular, individual talent. The seamy side of what is palatable to an audience and what is not is ultimately and ironically enough, tied to us. It's a strange symbiotic relationship that we have forged with brands but the truth is, we ultimately get to see what we want to see - we are the ones making the content creators curate 'viewable' products.

If God is intangible reality, Bollywood stars come with a larger-than-life appeal with their glitz and glamour of regular B-town, meanwhile athletes are products of blood and sweat. They go out on the field, they fight for every point, they lose, they fall, pick themselves up, they triumph but they stay alive in the fight - making them more 'real' and 'relatable' for the layman looking left and right for someone to put on a pedestal - the athlete remains a quick reach away, the 'achievable hero/heroine' figure.

As compared to the hype around an Olympics when it comes to brands making the most out of the whole extravaganza, the one circling the Paralympics hardly matched. ThumsUp did join the bandwagon for both and did a #PalatDe campaign for both the Olympics and the Paralympics but there were no such big-brands roping the Paralympians in, even after their plethora of success. The viewership of an Olympics and a Paralympics is also starkly different, although the awareness of the latter has definitely seen an upward trend, which cannot be denied.

But, what is being done to sustain that trend, if not make it grow? If idol-making is the concern for brands, why can't they usher in the change of narrative, why can't Paralympians, who achieved just as much, if not more, also get their due? When can we free our minds from this partisan politics and prompt the change - how many medals will it really take then for Paralympians to get what is deserved or will they always be on the backfoot because they are not seen as 'able' enough?

Why, then, must Olympians have all the fun?

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