From 19 participants at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016 who bagged India’s best-ever medal haul of four medals to 54 participants at the Tokyo Paralympic Games starting on Tuesday, India has come a long way. The Paralympic Committee of India president Dr. Deepa Malik is confident that progress will be visible in the medal table at the end of the Tokyo Games on September 5. The Rio Paralympic Games were a watershed moment in the history of para-sports in the country as it changed the perception of people towards physically challenged sportspersons and they started getting more recognition, getting more support both from the government and other bodies.
But according to Dr. Deepa, India is going to take things forward in Tokyo.
“Tokyo is just going to create history (for India). At Rio in 2016, we had arrived at the big stage. This time we are going to jump-start and take off,” said Dr. Deepa.
The 54-member Indian contingent for Tokyo Paralympics will participate in nine sports — athletics, swimming, powerlifting, shooting, archery, para canoeing, taekwondo, badminton, and table tennis. In 2016, Devendra Jhajharia (javelin throw F46) and Mariyappan Thangavelu (high jump T42) had won gold medals, Deepa Malik had won silver in women’s shot put and Varun Singh Bhati won bronze in men’s high jump T42)
Asked how many medals does she expect her athletes will win in Tokyo, Dr. Deepa said she would not like to put numbers on the performance.
“I don’t what to put any numbers because that is very cliched. I just want my athletes to put their best performance which they did back home or they just do better than what they did back home. It will bring them a medal,” said Dr. Deepa Malik to IANS on the sidelines of an event in which the PCI got into a sponsorship agreement with Thums Up.
“We have a very strong athletics squad, we have a very strong badminton squad. Shooting [team] has world record holders, so we are looking very, very confident. I don’t want to put any numbers. I don’t want to put pressure on my athletes in the leadership role of a president. I have been an athlete myself. I just want them to enjoy their sport and do their best. If they achieve their season-best, they are into a medal,” she said.
She said that more than 100 had achieved the minimum eligibility criteria for Tokyo Paralympics in athletics but since India had a quota of only 24, they had to pick the best from the best.
“So the filter for the funnel is so narrow that automatically we are getting the best from best in the country because they are not only the best of the country but they have to be in some position — top six to eight position in the world to be here, to get an opportunity on the quota allocation.
“So, this is definitely a strong team and we are looking forward to one of the best haul of medals. God willing, all the athletes are in good physical and mental health. They have adapted to Covid protocols very easily. They are used to it because a similar kind of atmosphere was given to them back home during the camps, during the trials, with support of Sports Authority of India and Ministry of Sports,” Dr Deepa told IANS from Tokyo.
On Monday, the Coca-Cola Company’s home-grown brand – Thums Up, became the first FMCG brand to partner with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Asked how such sponsorship will help the federation and the para-athletes, Dr. Deepa said that a corporate house like Coca-Cola coming in as a sponsor is a big boost for the para-sports ecosystem.
“Any federation needs to grow to create opportunities, to create participation internationally, to get the right kind of prosthetics, get right kind of wheelchairs — a table tennis wheelchair is different from a basketball wheelchair, a throw-frame for a person in each discipline is different.
“So, there is a lot of equipment, lot of support which is required and when having such global brands come and join hands, which are already in Paralympic movement globally, it puts us on a platform globally,” she added.
Dr. Deepa said what was more important from her perspective is that Thums up has come in as a sponsor.
“What I am more pleased about here is that it has come as a sponsorship, it has treated us as mainstream. Normally, our sports are taken as CSR — Corporate Social Responsibility, charity support but this time we have been respected as mainstream as Olympians, and even their campaign is absolutely at par with the one they created for the Olympians. It is a step forward as it is breaking a stereotype,” she added.
She felt that such collaborations will have corporates not taking para-sports seriously but “also reaching out to the masses with a very strong message of ability beyond disability”.