When it comes to Para sports Amit Saroha has achieved remarkable feats. Saroha has two golds and two silvers at Asian Para Games. At the World Championships he has bagged two silvers. For his on field achievements he has been honoured with Arjuna Award. He is one of India’s top Para athletes and the first quadriplegic to represent India at a Paralympic Games at London 2012 Para Games. Apart from his success, he has also been supporting other athletes from his personal resources. Supported athletes have also won medals in Para Asian games and many international events. He is working as a coach in Sports Authority of India (SAI).
In an interview with Dr. Amit Malik, Saroha talks in detail about para sports.
Dr. Amit Malik (AM): What are all the changes, developments or progress you see in para-sports in India in recent years?
Amit Saroha (AS): India never had any dearth of sporting talent in the differently-abled category, however, it’s only after 2010 that we have seen a significant increase in participation and achievements. The primary reason for this increase has been the spread of awareness. There is far greater awareness among the differently-abled people about the scope, categories, and opportunities in para-sports. The other reason being the recognition and support that para-athletes are getting today. The Indian government and sports ministry have been instrumental in improving the state of para-athletes be it in terms of monetary/cash awards, recognition or securing their future through offering government jobs. Today, a differently-abled person can pursue professional para-sports as it not only provides a respectable life, but also a financially secure future.
AM: How can we ensure the growth and development of para-sports?
AS: In order to ensure that para-sports further grows in India, there are 2 to 3 areas where we as a nation definitely need to focus on. To enable para-athletes to achieve sporting excellence, the first and foremost thing is to make sure that the quality of coaching for para-athletes is similar to those of mainstream athletes. The next thing to do is to make our sports infrastructure “accessible” to para-athletes. All our stadiums, courts, training centers, sporting arenas should be differently-abled friendly because unless a para-athlete can reach the training ground easily, how will he train in the first place. In addition to that, I hope that the government and other sporting bodies, keep spreading awareness, building a structured approach towards the development of para-sports, and providing the required support to our para-athletes. I also appeal to my fellow para-athletes to empower other upcoming athletes.
AM: How is the current funding situation for para-sports? How can it be improved?
AS: When it comes to funding, the primary concern is the same for both mainstream sports and para-sports. Our athletes get financial support, rewards, accolades only after they have already proved their worth in national or international events. Unfortunately, at the grassroots level, where the funding and support are most required, India is missing. Although there are a few NGOs, corporates who have come forward in recent times, however, we need much more dedicated and increased focus from government, corporate houses and private organizations. The talent needs to be nurtured and developed at the right stage. We need to ensure that we don’t lose out on any potential medal winners for the want of funding or facilities. I am very confident that if our para-athletes get the required support, India can soon be in the top-10 countries in Paralympics.
AM: We see that you have been supporting a lot of para-athletes yourself? What made you do so? What has been the outcome so far? Will you continue to do so in the future as well? What is your vision?
When I started my career in 2008/09, the state of para-sports in India was very grim. I faced a lot of difficulties and had to go through a lot of struggle to reach my current state. I was fortunate enough to be financially equipped so that I could continue my struggle. However, not many people are as fortunate. Post-2014, I reached a state where I had established myself, had a secure job, had financial stability as a result of cash rewards provided by the government.
This is when I realized my responsibility towards my country, para-sports, and other potential athletes. That is when I started supporting other budding athletes. Initially, I started with supporting 2 athletes, the number soon reached 7. I supported them financially by providing for their equipment, training, lodging, and dietary requirements. I can proudly say that most of these athletes have made a podium finish in various international events. So a little push from my end resulted in a significant life-changing experience for these athletes. This has been my biggest reward and achievement. The mental satisfaction and pride that I feel on account of this, is absolutely priceless. Nothing is more satisfying in life than knowing that you have made a positive impact in someone’s life.
I want to thank God for giving me this opportunity to be able to help others. And I pray that God keeps me in the condition where I can keep touching people’s lives.
AM: What’s your message for the other para-athletes?
AS: All I hope is to see the trend that I started with supporting budding athletes, is continued by other para-athletes. If each one of us can support at least one more athlete who is in need, it will go a long way in building para-sports in India.
This interview was first published on elmssportsfoundation.org.