September 2016 saw a high point in Indian para-sports as India ended up winning four medals at the Rio Paralympics after sending just 19 contenders. This was the country’s largest delegation in the history of the Games and the historic medal tally gave Indians more reasons to be inspired by the para-athletes.
However, a gross error on the part of the country’s Paralympic committee may have just undermined one the most prolific medal winners after a tweet that may be interpreted as insensitive to one of the Paralympic performances.
The error was immediately noticed by many and TOI Sports contacted the PCI for clarification on the matter. “That must have been an error on the social media team's part. There is no doubt that the two events are separate,” Gursharan Singh, vice-president of the PCI told the newspaper.
“Deepa competed in the F-53 category and the F refers to Field, whereas Bhagyashree competed in the T-53 category which refers to Track events. It is an unfortunate error on social media and I will speak to the concerned people," he added.
Deepa Malik, who won the silver in the F-53 Shotput even and became the first female Para-athlete to secure a medal at the Paralympics, was the subject of an unjustified comparison on Twitter after a post by the official account of Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) erroneously referred to her performance in Rio.
During the ongoing 17th National Para Athletics Championships, a tweet by the PCI congratulated Maharashtra’s Bhagyashree Mazire for chalking up a distance of 4.67 meters to bag the gold in the T-53 category. The same tweet compares Mazire’s score to that of Deepa Malik, who hurled a personal best of 4.61 meters at Rio- a performance worthy of the silver medal at the Games.
While the comparison itself is insensitive, the situation is worsened by the fact that both Mazire and Malik competed in two completely different categories. As per the disability classifications by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), T51-54 classes are for wheelchair track events and classes F51-58 for seated field throws.
Mazire’s achievement, albeit impressive comes in the T-53 category while Deepa Malik won her Rio accolade by competing in the F-53 category. The original tweet by the PCI has been taken down since.
Currently, the field of para-sports is all the more in the limelight due to the ongoing Championships in Chennai. As such, treating the achievements of the Paralympic heroes with such slight and indifference seems to be highly uncalled for.
The stories of Devendra Jhajharia, Mariyappan Thangavelu, Varun Singh Bhati and Deepa Malik, as well as multiple fourth place finishes at the Games, are sources of inspiration for all Indians.
While there have been continuous talks of government efforts to treat para-sports at par with other mainstream sports, in light of such propagation of misinformation, one wonders whether the national authorities take para-sports seriously in the country.
As the oldest Arjuna Awardee winner in 2012, it is quite clear that Deepa Malik’s reputation as a formidable sportsperson precedes her. Keeping her on and off field achievements in mind, it is quite outrageous that her international achievements be treated with such apathy and detachment.
This may be regarded as an example of unprofessionalism of the highest order.