Indian para-athlete reduced to begging in Berlin before tournament

Deepshikha Chatterjee

July 12th, 2017

|Image Cortesy: Kanchanmala Pande|

Few things in the world of sports can be as bad as when an international athlete fails to get due recognition for their contributions to the country. Swimmer Kanchanmala Pande was recently made to bear the brunt of the bureaucratic inefficiency that plague sports federations in India.

The Nagpur-based para-swimmer is completely sightless and competes in the S11 category. Just before flying out to complete in the Para-Swimming Championships in Berlin, Pande’s participation in the tournament was left in doubt after alleged mistakes by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).

The tournament in Berlin was scheduled to take place between July 3-9. For her and five other para-swimmers from the country, this time proved to be quite a nightmare as the government sanctioned money for their tour failed to reach them on time. To counter this, Kanchanmala is reported to have borrowed the money from complete strangers in Berlin.

“This is a government sponsored event and, as such, it is the responsibility of the authorities to see that things go smoothly, Vinod Deshmukh, Kanchanmala’s husband said in an exclusive conversation with Sports Possible. “The money to sponsor the participants of this tournament had been transferred by SAI into an account set up by PCI. When we tried accessing the money, we were informed the account was blocked,” he added.

Kanchanmala Pande competes in the S11 category of para-sports

A loan of 5 lakhs needed to be taken out by Kanchan and her family just so she could participate in the tournament. Furthermore, a medal in this tournament would mean a direct qualification into the World Championships, a fact which further accentuated the importance of Kanchanmala’s participation in it.

“The problem with the money was not the only place the PCI made a mistake,” Deshmukh continued. “Kanchan always competes in the 100m Backstroke event. On the day of her event, we found out that her name had been registered for the 50m event instead. Why is the PCI so inefficient?” Deshmukh questions.

If this was not enough, the athletes were asked to arrange for their own visas prior to the tournament which ended up costing nearly Rs 15,000. Additionally, the registration fees for the Kanchanmala’s event was also not paid. A sum of 90 euros needed to be arranged for immediately just so that she could participate in the event she wanted to.

“This kind of gross negligence affects the athlete’s concentration,” Deshmukh observed. “Kanchan was on the verge of a huge loss. We even asked for the money to be reimbursed afterwards but the PCI could offer us no assurance of that.”

Talking about these allegations, the PCI chief Gurcharan Singh has gone on record to maintain that the money, in fact, had not been sanctioned by the Sports Authority of India. Going against the athlete’s narrative, he also added that the swimmers would definitely be refunded their money.

“I am here in London for the World Athletics Championship and we are also facing a problem of shortage of money. SAI sanctioned just 40,000 pounds (Rs 33.16 lakh) while the organisers are asking for 80,000 pounds (Rs 66.32 lakh). We will hold meetings with SAI officials to discuss this matter. So, a fix to all this will be done once the London meet is over. I assure you, the swimmers will be given back their money. As for the coach problem, I am not aware of it. As soon as I get back to India, we will talk to the swimmers and will carry out an inquiry if needed,” Singh was quoted as saying by India Today.

When this news broke out, top Indian athletes like Abhinav Bindra have expressed anger at this kind of treatment towards para-athletes.

For para-athletes who have already had to defy the odds several times in life, such experiences definitely leave a bad taste in the mouth. Kanchanmala’s story, however, has a relatively happy ending. Even after her repeated ordeals, she was able to achieve her dream of securing a berth at the World Championships.

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