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The beauty of Paralympics lies in the unwavering spirit of its unrelenting athletes

The Paralympics deserves our attention

Mariyappan Thangavelu executes his gold medal winning jump

August 2016 arrived with a pleasant change of sorts. While the Indian Cricket Team was playing the West Indies at the latter’s home, much of the headlines on social and print media were generated from the Olympic Games, which comprised lesser-known Indian athletes. The willow and the cherry, surprisingly, were eclipsed by the boxing pads and shuttlecock.

The ‘elite’ group of twitterati showered their love on the Indian women who won us more than just medals. Star Sports dedicated a total of eight channels to telecast the quadrennial event. And, unarguably, the Indian stars at Rio deservedly received their due recognition. Their overnight sparkle, from being white dwarfs to supernovas, is partly credited to the media.

A few days later, on only the second day of the Rio Paralympics, two Indian athletes, Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Singh Bati clinched gold and bronze medal each respectively. The prized scalps came from men’s high jump T-42 event. While the records were created at about 4.30 AM IST, there was no mention of the historical feat on some of the quickest news-breakers till late morning.

Except for Virender Sehwag, who, after retirement has been scoring runs on Twitter, other frequent ‘elite’ handles are not talking about the Paralympics feat, not as much as during the Olympics, not as yet. Several newspapers have skipped the news, and our televisions screens remained devoid of the live telecast.

The emerging question is - Why the indifference towards the Paralympics athletes? The metal value of the medals remains equal, the moral fibre and travail to make it to the biggest sporting event is indistinguishable, but the attention given towards both have been lopsided.

The only way in which Paralympics can be differentiated from Olympics is that the former features disabled athletes in sporting events catered to their physical limitations. This special feature, contrary to lack of media attention, deserves the most of it. And it is not just the Indian broadcasters who seem unheeding and oblivious of these games.

Rio Paralympics 2016

The spectacular RIO Paralympics opening ceremony could not be watched lived by Indians

The games kicked off with a glittering opening ceremony at Rio’s Maracana stadium on Wednesday. As many as 154 countries are taking part in the Games, which Google describes as ‘a major international multi-sport event.’ The opening ceremony was a beautiful spectacle to watch.

Each of the contingents carried a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, with their country’s name on one side and the pictures of its athletes on the other. Once the puzzle was formed, all the faces of the competing athletes together drew a shape of a human heart, which beat in sync with music that played in the background. Also seen were some amazing stunts, one of which saw a physically impaired man on a wheelchair cross a ring of fire.

But nobody in India could watch it live because not a single channel broadcasted it. Whether they do not hold the rights to broadcast it, or didn’t consider the event worthy enough to get viewer traffic, is best known to them.

However, India is not the only country which will not get to watch any games live. It is among 65 countries in the world – mostly in Central Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia where the Paralympics Games will not be shown on TV.  But our Prime Minister remains ignorant of this, as mirrored in his tweet.

“The people of India will be enthusiastically cheering for our athletes representing India at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, starting 7th Sept.”

What really are the Paralympics?

India’s Mariyappan Thangavelu won the gold medal while Varun Singh Bhati clinched the bronze in the men's high jump T-42 event

Years of grit against a permanent physical disability boils down to the biggest sporting arena when the Paralympics come knocking. Defying conventional norms, disabilities are developed into abilities, impossibilities transitioning into possibilities.

It is an event which sees athletes not only battle against their rivals, but also against deterrents from “normality” itself. It is a heart-wrenching experience to watch superstars, who do not match our physical fitness, unmatched in world-competitions, far exceeding the reach of our regular limbs.

Almost all the athletes in the Paralympics participate with prosthetic devices. The artificial backbone and spine, in conjunction with the metaphoric backbone and spine, produce incredible performances at the Games, inspiring differently-abled people worldwide.

To give you just one of the many instances of physical barriers broken by the Paralympians, Mariyappan Thangavelu, the Gold medalist from Tamil Nadu, crushed his knees at the age of five after his right leg came under the wheels on his way to school. Being born to a vegetable seller and living with limb deficiency did not hold him back from winning several sporting trophies and medals. He has previously earned a gold medal at the IPC Tunisia Grand Prix when he jumped his PB of 1.78m.

These athletes do not want enormous prize money or a BMW for that matter. All they want is some love and support. If you cannot watch the games on TV, catch all the action live on the official Youtube channel. And this should not be just in support of the Indian athletes rivaling their foreign counterparts, but to witness an internal challenge that every Paralympian is posed with, between the heart, mind and soul.

Most Olympians, cricketers, footballers and other sportspersons cannot do what the Paralympians do. And if it is this point of difference which has caused divided attention towards the Paralympics Games, then we know whose loss it really is. 

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