Historic would be an understatement. India couldn’t have asked for a better result at the Paralympics. The medals column reads five gold, eight silver and six bronze—a total of 19. For the first time India had sent as many as 54 para-athletes. Until now, since the inception of the Paralympics in 1960, India had managed just a dozen medals. Of the 12, four including two gold medals came in Rio five years ago.
Sports, be it Olympics or Paralympics, suddenly has transcended the boundaries of stadia and grounds in the country. It has generated interest and every medal has been celebrated. The social change is apparent. It has quietly seeped into every household. Though India has been participating in the Paralympics since its inception in 1960, there were hardly any medals to show. The buzz was missing. Not until the Rio Paralympics when Deepa Malik’s and T Mariyappan’s medals ushered in joy and hope. The recognition and fame followed and with it, awareness. Even though the Paralympic Committee of India was in a mess until the current dispensation took over, it did not deter para-athletes from pursuing sport as a vocation. There are flaws even now, as was visible during the nationals in Bengaluru when an event was apparently hosted under car lights, but a few disabled-friendly facilities have come up. The Sports Authority of India, under its Target Olympic Podium Scheme and Annual Calendar for Training and Competition, too has started loosening its purse. In the last Olympic year, it spent a record amount of funds—approximately Rs 28 crore. Almost all para-athletes who qualified were inducted into the TOP Scheme and eligible for Rs 50,000 out-of-pocket allowance.
There were various interventions when para-athletes needed to compete abroad. Even the national federations chipped in. The overall results are a reflection of all stakeholders working together towards a definite goal. Considering India came back from the Tokyo Olympics with seven medals including a track and field gold, the Paralympics outcome definitely points towards ascendency in Olympic sports. With Paris just three years away, the boost that India has received should not be frittered away.