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Indian Paralympic sport development at standstill while 2016 Games qualification continues slowly

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With the status of the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) still in limbo because of the organization’s suspension by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), development of Paralympic sport in the country has largely ground to a halt.  While the Paralympic Committee of India is suspended, Indian athletes can still qualify for and compete in Rio Games under what will most likely be the flag of the IPC.  They have been and are actively trying to qualify.

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Indian sportspeople are scheduled to compete in three competitions in Dubai next month as part of individual qualifying efforts.   These events include the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia-Oceania Championships and the 2016 IPC Athletics Grand Prix FAZAA International Athletics Competition.

Naresh Kumar Sharma’s finish at the 2015 IPC Shooting World Cup in Fort Benning in  R7 – Men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions event was enough to earn a qualifying spot, though it is unclear if this spot would be for Indian shooters in general or individual assuming India remains ineligible.

Man with medal

Farman Basha with his bronze medal in Malaysia. Image credit: Farman Basha

Indian powerlifter Farman Basha who represented his country at the 2012 Summer Paralympics also looks primed to potentially go to Rio.  With the 2016 IPC Powerlifting World Cup currently being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he won a bronze medal yesterday.

Wheelchair fencing also appears to be headed towards trying to get qualifying berths for Rio.  The Haryana State Wheelchair Fencing Association, who are affiliated to Wheelchair Fencing Federation of India, held India’s 8th edition of their national championship in the sport last month in Karnal. Vibhas Sen was one of the stars of the competition, and is ranked 52nd internationally in the Men’s Sabre event.  He is he highest ranked Indian wheelchair fencer. The competition was part of the selection process for the 2016 IWAS Asian Wheelchair Fencing Championships, Hong Kong which take place in April.

wheelchair fencing

The 2015 Indian National Wheelchair Fencing competition. Image credit: Vibhas Sen

Visually impaired athletes may have an easier time of qualifying for Rio because the Indian Blind Sports Association remains functional, and on good terms with the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA).  Some qualification pathways for vision impaired athletes go through IBSA events. The organization appears to have some issues behind the scenes with monopolisation that can make working through them challenging for some athletes.  At the same time, it is unclear how much funding the  Indian Blind Sports Association has to independently support efforts by Indian vision impaired sportspeople trying to qualify for the Games.

Despite the problems with governance of the sport, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has been supportive of experienced Indian sportspeople seeking to qualify for Rio.  They have been able to provide some funds to a number of athletes to insure they can compete at the Games.

Internal battles for the control of the future of Paralympic sport in the country continue.  The newly created  Indian Association of Para Sport Organizations, headed by Rajesh Tomar, appears to be setting itself up to try to get recognition from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the Government of India as the country’s NPC.  This would set it into conflict with the existing Paralympic Committee of India, which still currently exists and is seeking to be unsuspended by the IPC.

The continuing internal governance problems have resulted in a slow down of the development of Paralympic sport in the country.  It represents a core challenge in any long term plans to develop a cohort of Indian athletes who will be ready to compete at an elite level at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.  The current structure in place to deal with governance problems is serving only as a stopgap measure to get experienced Indian competitors to Rio.  The country has three to four female athletics competitors who could dominate on the Asian athletics scene and who are actively training.  Lack of available international opportunities because of the lack of development, and lack of desire to risk sending athletes overseas with unproven records may cut these women’s athletes careers short.

This problem is seen very clearly with the sport of para-badminton, which is a sport where India could easily become a regional and world powerhouse.  The sport is currently officially governed by the Badminton Sports Association of India For Challenged under the aegis of the  PCI but the Sports Authority of India has taken over their role because of the IPC suspension of the PCI.  The sport lacks an independent national governing body, and is not affiliated with the able-bodied Badminton Association of India.

At the 2015 Para World Championship, India badminton players earned four gold, three silver and four bronze medals.  Despite their success, they are having trouble finding funding because of the issues surrounding the Paralympic Committee of India, and its current relationship with the government.  An important ranking tournament is scheduled to take place in Turkey in April, and it is unclear if the team will have the funds to compete.  The Asian Championship are scheduled for this November, and similar funding problems exist for that event.  It is possible Indian para-badminton players, including some of the world’s best, will be able to compete in a single international tournament in 2016.

India para-badminton has tried to fix some of the problem internally through the creation of the  Indian Para Badminton Commission.  They organized a national competition in December of last year, and are working on creating an ad hoc national ranking system until broader governance issues with the sport are resolved.  The issue is this commission lacks both national and international recognition, meaning that while players could have a pathway for domestic competition, they still must rely on an unresponsive SAI to handle any international competition player selection and funding.  There is an added layer of difficulty, because international competitions for para-badminton are not handled by the IPC; the sport is governed by the Badminton World Federation, who have not authenticated the SAI as the provisional governing body of the .

Similar problems are being faced by other sports across the country for para-sport, with two large exceptions.  The first is blind cricket, which is governed by the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI).  The major benefit for the organization is blind cricket is not governed internationally by the IPC, nor the IBSA.  This means that despite the challenges presented by the PCI suspension for many sports, CABI does not have to deal with them.  Instead, they must deal with typical challenges faced by any minor sport organization in trying to get funding from the Government of India.  The high level of visibility of blind cricket and large number of players in India provide some leverage in accomplishing some major events, including hosting a regional tournament in India earlier this year.  No other para-sport in India is positioned to really accomplish this.

The other major sport not having major difficulties is wheelchair basketball.  The sport is still in its infancy and India does not yet have an international team.  Thanks in a large part to support from the government in Tamil Nadu and with assistance from NGOs, the sport is slowly beginning to take off in Tamil Nadu and Delhi.  Processes are currently being set up to select a national team, and create development pathways on a national level.  The latter development issue is very important as it does not require addressing any potential issues with international competition.  This situation is assisted by the country’s ability to work with neighboring countries like Nepal, who are at a similar place in terms of domestic development.

Outside these limited pathways, many Indian athletes are at a standstill because of funding and recognition issues dependent on India para-sport having international recognition.  Development money is unlikely to flow in and availability to compete internationally for many sportspeople on the cusp is unlikely to happen  in India until the sports governance problems can be addressed and that seems unlikely to happen until after the 2016 Rio Games when people have the ability to pay attention to these issues in greater detail.

Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2533 Articles)
Laura Hale is a sport journalist, specializing in Paralympic and disability sport news. Prior to helping found ParaSport-News, she spent two and a half years working as a journalist on Wikinews, a citizen journalism site. As a journalist, she has covered the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, and a number of other sporting events. She has additional experience with Paralympic sport having worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian and Spanish Paralympic Committees.

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