Prior to departing for England for three ODI against the English side and another three ODIs against the Bahrain side, India men’s national blind cricket team captain Shekar Naik has spoken out about the lack of recognition and available funding to members of the national team.
According to Naik, his current job pays him only R13,000 (US$205, €185) a month. While this is ahead of the current minimum wage of R7722 (US$121, €110), it is very close to the minimum living wage of R12,096 (US$190, €173). He has requested funding assistance or assistance in finding a better job through India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, but has not heard back from them.
Teammate Karche, who scored 7 wickets in the team’s seven game World Cup winning campaign, had to miss the England tour because of his own financial difficulties as he could not raise the R63,000 (US$1,000, €900) to go. He was quoted by MidDay as saying, “I’m very sad because, despite me being the only Maharashtra player in the World Cup squad, I could not manage even a rupee as donation. After my good performance in the World Cup, I was looking forward to touring England. I was very confident of doing well.” He went on to say, “Finance was not a problem for the World Cup as the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) managed everything. I knew getting funds for the England tour would be a challenge, but not getting even a rupee was not something I expected. I was also clueless as to how I should approach government authorities for funds. I am hurt that the state government did not even felicitate me for my World Cup performance.”
Naik also talked about the lack of recognition from the broader Indian cricket community for the team. He was quoted by MidDay as saying, “After winning the World Cup no one from Team India congratulated us except Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, who tweeted about us.”
CABI’s General Secretary Mahantesh Kivadasannavar talked to MidDay about these funding challenges for his players, saying, ““Getting financial aid is a big challenge for us. This tour cost us around Rs 25 lakhs. Gulf Air granted us 50 per cent discount on the tickets and Government of India has agreed to grant us some money. Other help came from Samarthanam, an NGO (Karnataka) while Andhra Pradesh Blind Cricket Association supported three players. We also asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for assistance for the England tour, but we didn’t get a reply.” He went on to say, “Cricket boards in other countries have made changes to their respective constitutions and recognised blind cricket associations. We have been urging the BCCI to grant us affiliation. Only recently, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur replied, saying he is looking into this matter. Let’s see.”
India is one of the best blind cricket playing nations in the world, with the men’s team winning last year’s World Cup in South Africa after beating arch rival Pakistan. Estimates put the number of players in India at over 35,000.
The sport has gotten some government funding, though most of this is targeted at funding events and competitions, not towards grants for members of the national team side. At February meeting this year of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment Committee for Grants under Awareness Generation & Publicity Scheme, Cricket Association for Blind in India (Samarthanam) requested and was awarded Rs. 26.00 lakhs (€365,810) for hosting tournaments, with Rs 16.00 lakhs (€225,136) for four zonal competitions and Rs 10.00 lakhs (€140,698) for a national competition.
Disability sport in India is currently at a low point, with the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) suspended in April by the International Paralympic Committee, with Indian athletes not able to compete internationally under their own flag unless the sport is governed by another international body as is the case with cricket and other blind sports. The Indian government has also suspended PCI recognition and there has been little movement to resolve this. The suspension came following horrible treatment of Indian athletes at a national competition, and amid internal turmoil that included accusations of corruption and misappropriation of funds.