‘Tokyo Games a watershed moment’

Paralympians say the awareness and participation levels have seen an increase

Paralympic medallists, including shuttler Suhas Yathiraj, feel the Tokyo Games was a watershed moment for parasports in India as the country’s splendid show in the Japanese capital has encouraged people to make a career in sports, which is evident from the increased participation in national tournaments.

The Indian contingent scripted history at the Tokyo Paralympics by winning 19 medals, including five gold, which helped it sign off 24th in the overall tally — the highest ever.

“It was a watershed movement for badminton in Tokyo 2020. We have an important tournament coming up and I’m sure increased interest will auger well for the sport,” said Suhas, who is Gautam Buddh Nagar’s (Noida) District Magistrate, during a virtual media interaction on Tuesday.

“If you look at the increase in participation in the National championships that were held in Odisha it was very high. The interest in badminton is extremely high because it is a very easy sport for beginners. So para badminton is reaching new heights in India and around the world,” he added.

“This time more than 500 athletes had come for the Nationals, we were completely surprised by the number. Earlier there would be 300-350,” said shuttler Pramod Bhagat, who won gold at the Paralympics

“Para-badminton is being redefined after Tokyo. We also achieved a milestone and the most important thing was we were kept on the same platform as Olympians,” Bhagat said.

More participation

Harvinder Singh, who became the first Indian to win a Paralympics medal in archery (a bronze), feels the people will now take up different para sports.

“There are still a lot of events in which India has not participated in. The recognition we get after the medal will also help (in people taking up other para sports).

“Our Nationals were postponed but the number of entries was huge thanks to the recognition of the Paralympics.”

Suhas believes a lot can still be done in para badminton as well as other sports.

“Pariticipation of India in a wheelchair category was zero. So we need to ensure that our wheelchair players are given an opportunity.

“The State-level associations need to be run professionally. They need to tie up for funding with different things like CSR and identify talent at State and district levels and then give opportunities.”

Finish in top three

Three-time Paralympic medal winner javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia feels India can finish in the top three in athletics at the Paris Games.

The 40-year-old, who added a silver medal in Tokyo to his two gold medals, said, “China and Iran are ahead of us in athletics and at number three there several countries like Japan and Korea are there.

“But I feel, with the government providing facilities and the way the kids are training, our target will be to finish in the top 3. We definitely can do well in athletics.”

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