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Special Olympics - A different league of champions

The Indian contingent performed exceedingly well at the Special Olympics World Games in Las Vegas but did not get the attention they truly deserved.

Members of the Special Olympics Bharat team at the Los Angeles World Summer Games 2015

Parshuram Phadte, Sweta Gosai, Keshav Chaturvedi, Kaveri Ahuja, Shakhu Nagarkar – it is highly unlikely that any of us may be familiar with these names. This is not a list of toppers at a national level entrance exam, but a few individuals who have done the nation proud. How? All five of them won gold medals for India at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Athens.

Phadte did it at athletics, Gosai at swimming and Chaturvedi, Ahuja and Nagarkar won laurels power-lifting, cycling and badminton respectively.

India achieved an incredible tally of 243 medals, which included 78 Gold, 73 Silver and 92 Bronze, at the previous edition of the marquee event for the Special Olympics four years ago in Athens, Greece. This is the highest tally by any Indian contingent at a major multi-nation sporting event ever. Yet the fact remains that it is a feat that most of us have not even heard of.

Lack of Adequate Support

It is difficult to blame the general public entirely for being unaware of the efforts of India’s representation at events like these. There is very little media coverage to enable us to be informed about them. Local sports reporting in our country is more focused on covering highly popular sports such as cricket and football.

These are followed by sports like tennis, Formula 1 racing and hockey, and the rest of the coverage picks up whatever little we are able to do in athletics and other less popular sports in the country.

On the other hand, the media have their own reasons that deter them from covering events such as the Special Olympics. The major hindrance for them is the genuine lack of public interest in what transpires in the life of our special athletes. Why would a newspaper publish a piece of information that no one would bother to read? Or a television channel broadcast something that will not have any viewership?

A surprising helping hand

Thankfully not everyone shares the same line of thought as the press or general viewers. Global sporting brand WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) decided to put their weight behind the Indian contingent at the Special Olympics World Games 2015. Through this partnership, WWE India has pledged to leave no stone unturned in promoting the efforts of specially gifted athletes. One hopes this could inspire others in our country to come out in support of the athletes and the event as a whole.

Performance at the World Summer Games 2015

The 2015 edition of the Special Olympics World Summer Games took place at Los Angeles between 25 July and 2 August, and Indian athletes have yet again proved their mettle. They have racked up an impressive tally of 173 medals of which 47 are gold, 54 silver and 72 bronze. 

Some of the highlights of their campaign this year have been 14-year-old Ranveer Singh Saini’s gold medal in golf, Phoolan Devi’s multiple medal performance in power-lifting, which included a gold and 3 bronze medals, Prabhroop Singh Sekhon’s twin gold medals in rollerskating and Sneha Verma’s aquatics gold. However, these are only a few names among the several medal winners for India at this year’s games.

Behind the Scenes

The athletes are highly talented and possess the skills to show their prowess on the big stage. However, this may not have been possible without assistance from the thousands of coaches, trainers and other support staff who contribute to the cause. It is the result of their whole-hearted effort in helping these young champions realize their potential that motivates them to go for gold.

Currently, there are around 85,000 coaches and trainers across the country who engage with over 1 million athletes and prepare them for the big stage. Credit must also be given to the governance team, which has done a great job in setting up a proper infrastructure for the promotion of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Over the Years

India’s journey at the Special Olympics World Summer Games began in 1987 when an 11-member team brought home 18 medals including 4 gold. The team strength has only increased since then, the only exception being the 1999 Games where only 19 represented the country. Despite this, they pulled off an incredible tally of 107 medals which consisted of 25 gold, 45 silver and 37 bronze.

From 81 in the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Dublin, the member count increased to 137 in the 2007 Shanghai Games, moving to to 184 in the 2011 games in Athens. The ongoing games that came to an end yesterday saw a total of 234 Indian athletes take part across numerous events.

Hope for the Future

The Special Olympics Bharat initiative has checked all the right boxes thus far when it comes to taking those with intellectual disabilities forward in the sporting sphere. Facilities are only getting better, and this shows in the increased amount of participation in national as well as international events. At least 100,000 more athletes come under the fold of this movement each year and are given a chance to display their abilities. There are also a number of training and leadership programs that have been designed to broaden the horizon for our special athletes and give them more opportunities to move ahead.

It can only get better from here for these winners; what is needed is an overall change in the general attitude of our society towards them. They not only require support but also need to be cherished for their achievements and for making the nation proud. 

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