Paralympic Sport in India in Great Shape, Says Gursharan Singh

From one medal in London in 2012, to four at Rio 2016, and an exponential jump to 19 in Tokyo in 2021, India’s Paralympic story in recent years is one of serious achievement. And if Gursharan Singh, the Secretary General of the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), is to be believed, the number could go up to 35 or even more in Paris. “In Tokyo, I had predicted 15 medals,” he said. “I was absolutely sure we would do better. In Paris, I am telling you we will get 35 or more. And it is not that I am just saying it. Each word I am saying is based on facts and data, how our athletes have performed or are performing. Paralympic sport in India is in great shape and will only get better.”

In Hangzhou for the Chef de Mission meeting, Gursharan is confident that India is ready for the Para Asian Games to be held between 22-28 October in China. According to him, 100-plus medals are a distinct possibility.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Boria: There is a real buzz about what the Indian contingent can achieve in the Asian Para Games and in the Paris Paralympics. As Secretary General, how are you seeing things?

Gursharan Singh: We had won four medals in Rio, which became 19 in Tokyo. I can tell you with confidence that the number should go up to 35 or more in Paris. Our athletes are doing very well, and this is a real estimate. You can record this, and come back to me after the Games. In Tokyo, we participated in nine sports. In Paris, the number will go up to 13. That was the first task. Participate in as many sports as possible. The more you participate in, the better your chances are of winning a medal. And if you ask me about the Asian Para Games, we had 70-plus medals in the last edition in 2018, and this time round, the number will surely go past 100. I think we should surely cross 110 medals. And on Chinese soil. In the last edition of the Asian Para Games, we participated in 13 sports. In Hangzhou, the number will be 18. So, there has been all-round progress in Para Sports in India.

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Boria: This is indeed very heartening to hear. What I am also interested in knowing about is the process – what are the steps the PCI has taken to improve things in the last few years?

Gursharan: I don’t think I will be off the mark if I say that in Para Sports, India is doing the best. You should take a look at every sport and judge for yourself. We are competing at the world level in every event, and winning medals at every event. And this is the result of a lot of hard work by people at all levels. For example, we have launched a joint programme with the Indian army. Every defence personnel, if he or she is injured or if something happens to them, they can subsequently make a career in para sport. It gives them a great opportunity to serve the country and continue with their careers. And for us, it is a matter of great pride to partner the Indian army and serve the country. Our athletes can use the army facilities and train, and it gives them a great advantage to be able to do so.

We have conducted a number of programmes for the coaches also. The more you can educate the coaches, the better it will be for our athletes. We need our coaches to be able to impart the best to their students, and it was a well-thought-out plan. I must thank the government and the private sector for the support because, without it, none of this is feasible. We don’t make a distinction between able-bodied and para athletes in India, and both receive equal prize money and other incentives. It is a major step forward for every specially abled athlete.

Boria: Do you see the change you are speaking about reflected in society at large? Do specially abled people now get the same respect, for example? That’s the key for me. For equality to be achieved, we need to be a far more sensitive society. We need to embrace change and transform our mindsets.

Gursharan: Yes, and it is evident at all levels. If you now see, specially abled athletes are celebrated all round the country. And that can happen only if there is a sea change in mentality. Only when do people see them as equals can we see this happen, and that’s what you are seeing in India. The Prime Minister has spoken about para athletes and para sports multiple times on Mann Ki Baat. Such things are sure to impact people’s mindset, and serve as enablers of change.

Boria: What about facilities? Do our athletes now have the facilities they need? The very basic facilities like proper ramps, toilets, equipment have been lacking in India for a long time?

Gursharan: I think we are now ready to offer every para athlete the best of facilities. Athletes have been allowed to train in the manner they want, we have introduced sports science and have the best of opportunities for our athletes. And sport is at two levels, physical and mental, and we are conscious of taking care of the mental health of our athletes. Even during the pandemic, we had conducted as many online programmes as possible, and all of it is now showing results. There has not been one international competition where Indian para athletes haven’t won medals, and that’s something we are determined to continue. Winning is a habit, and you can’t just say we will win at Asian Para Games or Olympics. You need to win at every level, and be consistent. Win at the junior and senior level. That’s when you become a sporting power. And that’s what we at the PCI want to achieve for India.

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