New Delhi, March 7: London Olympic medallists from Delhi were showered with cash by all and sundry whereas the special Olympians, who have returned from South Korea with 18 of the 46 medals the country bagged, have not even been felicitated, let alone being rewarded.
India’s differently-abled athletes bagged 13 gold, 17 silver and 16 bronze at the Pyeongchang-Gangneung World Winter Games, where 2,200 athletes from over 120 nations participated. The tally was double of what they won at the 2009 Games.
Fourteen athletes from Delhi participated in five events – five in floor hockey, four in figure skating, two each in speed skating and snowshoeing and one in Alpine skiing. They came back with six gold, nine silver and three bronze medals, but no one from the government has bothered to contact them.
“How will we know who’s won what till they contact us,” Satpal Singh, the Delhi government’s additional director of sports and physical education, asked when speaking to IANS.
“I have no information about the medallists. It is for the federation concerned to approach the government with an application for rewarding the special Olympians,” he added.
The well-known wrestler-turned-administrator gave the example of London Olympic medallists – his son-in-law Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt – to point out that the Wrestling Federation of India had formally approached the state government.
Just one example will suffice to indicate how the London Olympians were treated. The Delhi government originally awarded wrestler Sushil Kumar, a silver medalist, Rs.1 crore and then doubled this. Sushil Kumar won his medal on Aug 12, 2012. The hike came on Aug 16, 2012.
Asked if the special Olympians need to parade around with their medals, Satpal Singh said: “Obviously we are not giving alms to people, these kids obviously deserve remuneration. The people concerned should contact me and something will certainly be done.”
“The government has done a lot for the disabled athletes. An Arjuna award is given every year in the differently-abled category,” he said.
Kirti Kalra, the elder of the Kalra sisters, won a silver and the younger Simran a bronze in the figure skating events. They performed so admirably, making light of their severe hearing disability.
Bipasha, 14, won a gold and silver in speed skating despite her difficulties in social communiation.
“The government needs to do more to help these special children. More care needs to be taken in their development. The Summer Olympians were talked about and taken note of by the state governments but sadly, nothing is being done for these children,” Bipasha’s mother Chitra Mukherjee told IANS.
More scathing in her attack was Ashish’s sister Bhumika Shresta, who works with Accenture.
Ashish, 18, who has a Down syndrome, won two silvers in speed skating. He has not been contacted by anyone from the sports ministry or the Delhi government since his momentous achievement.
“We have been in touch with other parents also and they have said the same thing. No one has been contacted and there has been very little news of anyone’s ward winning a medal. It’ almost like nothing happened,” Shreshtra told IANS.
“To say the least, it’s just disheartening that the government does not seem to recognise the stupendous efforts of these kids. They need as much help as possible. This is a great opportunity for them to make a name and earn a living, but the government is not doing its bit to encourage them,” she added.
The cases of Suman and Alpana are pathetic. To add to their disabilities they belong to lower middle-class families and did not have any financial backing. It was nothing short of a miracle that the duo won golds in figure skating and snowshoeing respectively.
Other state governments have promptly recognised the athletes’ performance and feted them. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi awarded Rs.2 lakh to Maya Devipujak, who returned with a gold medal in floor hockey.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, too, wasn’t far behind as he presented medallists Anishka Upadhyay (12), Priyanka Parida (17) and Kulpreet Kaur Bhatti (13) with a laptop and Rs.21,000 in cash each.
(Santosh Rao can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)