FILE: India's Sheetal Devi competes in the women's individual compound archery event at the 4th Asian Para Games, in Hangzhou, China.
FILE: India's Sheetal Devi competes in the women's individual compound archery event at the 4th Asian Para Games, in Hangzhou, China.

Para Asiad haul augurs well for Paris test

One good thing was that the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India kept supporting the athletes with funds, training and exposure.

There is arguably no better mirror that reflects the human ability to adapt and move on than para-sports. So when Sheetal Devi, an armless archer, picked up the arrow with her feet, drew the strings and found her mark, the video went viral. The 16-year-old at once turned into an image of resilience and hope—the spirit that can rekindle life. She was among the 303 Indian para-athletes at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou who had their own telling tales of rising from the depths of despair.

After the high of the Asian Games, where India breached the 100-medal mark, all eyes were on these athletes—191 male and 112 female athletes who competed in 17 disciplines. Like at the Asiad, the Para Games too turned out to be India’s best ever. India bagged 111 medals—29 golds, 31 silvers and 51 bronzes—and finished fifth behind China, Iran, Japan and South Korea. The icing on the cake was when India created six world records as well as 13 Asian records. They won the country’s first-ever medals in rowing, canoe and taekwondo. Just to put the record in context, in 2014 India had 33 medals including three golds and finished 15th. In 2018, 190 athletes participated and won 72 medals including 15 golds, and ended ninth on the table.

Things are usually complicated when it comes to the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI). They were suspended in 2015 by the International Paralympic Committee, followed by the sports ministry, for infighting, poor management and gross negligence of athletes. Even in 2019, the sports ministry suspended the PCI for violating the sports code on governance. The PCI has always been under the scanner for the wrong reasons. High-handedness, infighting and corruption were just some of the allegations they faced. There have been charges of favouritism especially in accompanying para-athletes to events; there was a controversy this July before the World Para Athletics Championships on this issue. Athletes have cried foul at almost every national competition.

One good thing was that the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India kept supporting the athletes with funds, training and exposure. Things have changed over the last few years, yet there is room for vast improvement. India finished 21st at the Tokyo Paralympics with 19 medals. With Paris just nine months away, the 100-plus effort does augur well for India.

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