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My Khel Ratna award is a beacon of hope for Indian para-athletes, says Deepa Malik

Sayan Mukherjee

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Deepa Malik was conferred with the Padmashri award in 2017.

New Delhi: Personal recognition it might be, but Deepa Malik insists the underlying message of her Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award shouldn’t be lost on anyone. current sports news

Winning awards is nothing new though, her cupboard is already brimming with them, including the Arjuna and Padmashri, and medals (over 50 national and around 23 international). current sports news

The first Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics, the only woman from the country to win medals in three successive Asian Para Games (2010, 2014, 2018), all these achievements have ensured a steady flow of accolades over the years. So why does this Khel Ratna award bear so much significance for Malik? current sports news

“Because this award cannot be won on pity, sympathy or concessions or resolutions for disabilities,” Malik told Sports Lounge exclusively over the phone. current sports news

“My award restores faith in the concept of women empowerment. I am happy this is an award that has come totally on merit. My dream of getting recognition despite my disabilities has come true.”

Often devoid of limelight and all its ensuing perks, life of differently-abled athletes is distinctly different, and all the more onerous, from other sportspersons. But that they are equally talented and laborious could be gauged from Malik’s tall achievements.

The shot putter hopes her award ensures that differently-abled sports don’t suffer from intimidation at the arduousness of their task.

“If a 49-year-old woman with total paralysis below her chest can become a Khel Ratna recipient, it is a huge message and an inspiration and hope for all para-athletes. It’s the perfect time for anybody to feel motivated,” she said.

Malik’s optimism is not based only on her belief, she points to India’s four-medal (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) haul at the Rio Paralympics and 26 medals (8 gold, 9 silver, 9 bronze) at the 2019 Asian Youth Athletics Championships (only behind China, 31 medals – 12, 11, 8) as proof of the country’s development.

The medals count could only go upwards from here, to “atleast 10-12 medals” at the 2020 Summer Paralympics, to be held from August 25 to September 6 in Tokyo, Japan, the Sonepat-born Malik predicted.

“The standards of Paralympics sports are as good as able-bodied sports, far improved from when I joined 14-15 years ago. Now we have to be prepared to work even harder,” the 2016 Rio Paralympics silver medallist remarked.

Improved standards have helped para-athletes gain visibility, leading to infrastructural developments, not only in India but all over the world. Malik is glad this spotlight is not gender specific.

“As awareness has increased so has the competition. The growth in India is synonymous with the growth of para sports internationally.

“Women athletes have come into the spotlight. They have won medals in disciplines where we have never won, sprinters, gymnasts in particular. Rio 2016 Olympics is a big testimony that women athletes could also put the country on the global map.”

Being the elder statesman among the country’s para-athletes makes her glad, offsetting her absence from India’s campaign at the Tokyo Games next year as her pet event is not included in the disability category (F-53).

“Well it is not by choice, but by design. I have to wait for my pet event to be included in the Olympics since I can’t change my disability category,” the 2012 Arjuna award recipient said. current sports news

“I will put forward this issue in the athlete council meet of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in November.” current sports news

Absence from the Games isn’t a deterrent, neither has it arose thoughts of retirement. She is inclined to keep herself fit and motivated with an eye on the 2021 World Championships and 2022 Commonwealth Games, even when away from para-sports.

“I will prepare accordingly, depending on my condition and age. I am not announcing my retirement as of now. Currently I am focussed on improving my personal record in sea swimming. This has nothing to do with para sports. I plan to keep myself fit and motivated, by setting new targets and yardsticks,” resolve evident in her voice.

Her target though isn’t only personal anymore. Being part of the Paralympic Committee of India’s athletes’ council, she is the voice for the athletes, aggressively working to promote grassroots disability awareness through her foundation “Wheeling Happiness”.

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For Indian football’s sake, AIFF must disclose future plan for clubs, says Bhaichung Bhutia

Jaydeep Basu

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Bhaichung Bhutia
Former captian Bhaichung Bhutia is concerned about the state Indian football finds itself in.

New Delhi: Bhaichung Bhutia donned national colours for 17 years, 12 of them as captain. He hung up his boots in 2011, but did not stay away from the game.

He managed a professional club in Sikkim and remained the chairman of All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee. He heads a successful football school that has branches all over India.

“At least two footballers in the current national team, Ashique Kuruniyan and Aniruddh Thapa, were first spotted by our school,” he said with a tinge of pride in his voice.

Yet the soccer icon looked unsure when Sports Lounge asked him when the I-League could begin this season? “Will at all it be played this season,” Bhaichung asked back smilingly.

The smile on his face, however, vanished almost immediately. For him, it is not a subject to laugh about. Looking through the large window of the fashionable cafeteria in the Capital’s upscale Khan Market, Bhaichung spoke almost absent-mindedly.

“I hear they may start I-League in November. The announcement may come any time. But what Indian football urgently needs is a structure. That is missing for now.

“I felt assured when the AIFF in June said there would be a roadmap down the line for three years. But so far nothing has come out. Whether there will be a kind of merger between the ISL and I-League or two separate divisions, everything has to be laid out on the table. All stakeholders should be called and made a part of it.

“The I-League clubs should also know what is there in the offing. They would start preparing according to it. Even if there are divisions, there has to be promotion and relegation.

“But most importantly, there has to be an announced structure. Without it, you can’t operate,” the scorer of 42 international goals says emphatically.

There is one thing Bhaichung has no doubt about. The country’s top league, be it ISL or I-League, can’t flourish without the two Kolkata clubs.

“Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have to be there. The popularity, the support base, the emotion involved with these two clubs can’t be ignored. It has to be encashed. No league in India can reach dizzy heights without them.”

Bhaichung has a note of warning for the two clubs too. “If they have to play a truly professional league, then they also must change the style of functioning. The days are over when a football club can be run like a grocery shop.

“In I-League, year after year, the small-budgeted teams like Aizawl, Minerva, Chennai are winning the title. And these two clubs, despite spending money and having the support base and so-called tradition, are lagging behind. It clearly proves there is something seriously wrong in running those clubs.

Bhaichung Bhutia

Bhaichung Bhutia (from left) forged successful goal-scoring partnerships with Sunil Chhetri (centre) and IM Vijayan.

“It doesn’t happen anywhere. The Leicester City may have won the league once but it is not going to be repeated again and again. The EPL will continue to be dominated by Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea etc.

“It doesn’t mean the smaller clubs have no role to play in football. They will continue to work honestly and the supply line of footballers will remain intact,” said the striker, who spent three seasons in England for the now-expelled Bury FC.

Surprisingly, Bhaichung is not in favour of reducing the five-foreigner rule in Indian football. At least not for the moment. “There has to be something on the plate for the spectators. At the same time, let the local players face the competition,” he said.

Bhaichung has the moral right to say so. In the inaugural NFL in 1996-97, the clubs were allowed to field five foreigners. Yet Bhaichung emerged the top scorer with champions JCT.

There is one thing that bothers him. Who will take the responsibility of scoring for India once Sunil Chhetri calls it a day? “Once we hunted in pairs. First, it was me and IM (Vijayan). Then me and Sunil. Who is the next one?

“Well I am happy the way Ashique Kuruniyan and Abdul Sahal are shaping up. They are hugely talented.” Bhaichung feels assured the Indian football is in safe hands.

Find more football stories at Jaydeep Basu.

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Inexperienced South Africa has potential to improve: Amol Muzumdar

Ashish Mani Tiwari

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New Delhi: South Africa’s new interim batting coach Amol Muzumdar believes the team lacks maturity but can improve with proper guidance.

The former Mumbai batsman was appointed Proteas’ interim batting coach for the three-match Test series against India.current sports news

South African batsmen have struggled to score in their recent outings with the team failing to qualify for the ODI World Cup semifinals.

Asked about his observations regarding the deficiencies of the team, Muzumdar told Sports Lounge, “Yes inexperience is evident in South Africa team, but there is a scope for improvement.”current sports news

“Once, I will join the team, I will be able to analyse what exactly is the problem. Also, I am very excited about this new chapter of my coaching career”, he added.

Muzumdar will join the South African team on September 18 at Mohali. The three match-Test series will be beginning at Visakhapatnam (October 2-6) followed by matches in Pune (October 10-14) and Ranchi (October 19-23). South Africa was defeated in a four Test match series 0-3 by India in 2015.

Before the Test series, India and South Africa will engage in a three- match T20 series.

Muzumdar made his first class debut for Mumbai (Bombay) in 1994 against Haryana and made total 11,167 runs in first class cricket. He is the second-highest run-getter in the history of the Ranji Trophy.

Muzumdar holds wide coaching experience, including batting coach of Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s Under 19 and Under 23 sides at the National Cricket Academy. He has been the batting coach of the Netherlands In December 2013.

Commenting on the Muzumdar’s appointment, Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) acting director Corrie Van Zyl said, “He brings an intimate knowledge of Indian playing conditions and the challenges our batsmen are likely to face.

“He also assisted us at the spin bowling camp we held recently in India and thus has already built up a good working relationship with Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma and Zubayr Hamza.”

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My perseverance has paid off: Para-Badminton world champion Manasi Joshi

Sayan Mukherjee

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Manasi Joshi
Para-badminton world champion Manasi Joshi's journey is a story of grit, determination and perseverance. Pics: Google and Twitter

New Delhi: Did PV Sindhu unknowingly steal your thunder?sports news headlines

“No, I don’t think so,” Para-Badminton World Championships winner Manasi Joshi’s reaction was prompt, sharp and insistent on not being at the receiving end of an apparent oversight despite the prevailing sentiment, which was highlighted by Kiran Bedi’s tweet.sports news headlines

“In the high of PV Sindhu getting Gold in World Championship, we forgot to wish Manasi Joshi, who won gold in World Para Badminton Championship. Here is it wishing her,” the Puducherry governor wrote on social media.

But Manasi persisted at not feeling a tad remorseful at being apparently overshadowed after her triumph collided with Sindhu’s World Championships victory. Neither does she believe that she would have received more applause for her achievement had not her win coincided with Sindhu’s on August 25, a red-letter day for Indian badminton.

“It’s all about how media portrays it. I hope our achievements will be given equal share of importance. If it’s overshadowed it’s only for the media, because we put in equal amount of effort and even train at the same academy,” the 30-year-old told Sports Lounge in an exclusive chat.

Considering what she has went through in her life these are indeed the least of her worries. She was only six and able-bodied when she got hooked to the racquet and shuttlecock. Full of ambition and promise, her dreams of “doing a Sindhu” were shattered in December, 2011, when she lost her left leg in a road accident.

Fate might have made her physically impaired but could hardly dent her resolve, her focus shifting towards para-badminton in 2014, collecting a mixed doubles silver medal at the 2015 Para-Badminton World Championship, followed by a bronze at the 2018 Asian Para Games.

After the World Championships gold, her journey might seem akin to a fairytale but not many can comprehend how difficult it is for an athlete to get accustomed to the use of prosthetics after beginning career as an able-bodied sportsperson.

Walking with prosthetics is in itself quite a task, Manasi was not only bold enough to adjust to the psychological demands of her forced shift but also mastered the physical alterations that came with her misfortune.

“As a para-athlete we have to do things differently. Preparation is quite different. We have to look after many things on our own. Right from prosthetics – like I have to make sure that after waking up I fix my prosthetics properly,” she explained.

“Able-bodied athletes don’t have to think about all those things. I have to make sure how much time I have to fit my prosthetics before training. We have to think about so many things just to come out of home and play.

“I am sure an able bodied player or person don’t have to think so much. But everybody has their own method of advantages and disadvantages, I have my own. It’s about facing them and moving on.”

Migrating from Ahmedabad to Hyderabad to enroll at Pullela Gopichand’s academy in 2018 was immensely beneficial. Her family, including her parents and two siblings, were beside her all through, as was “Gopi sir”, coaches Rajendra Kumar, Hary Muliono and fitness trainer Raju.

“My trainers and coaches had to adapt to my current situation and ensured that I underwent whatever was needed for me. It couldn’t have been possible without the support of the people who has worked hard. So I would like to thank all of them.”

One gold, however, doesn’t mask the various problems she has faced throughout her journey, primary among them being funding for para-sports and the high cost of prosthetics.

“The prosthetics for walking, which lasts around 5-6 years, has a market price of around Rs 22 lakh. The playing prosthetics cost about 5-6 lakh. As para athlete I have to spend a lot of amount just to start walking,” Manasi pointed out.

“My sponsors, Mallcom and Welspun, have been very helpful, so have my employers Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL).”

While a lot could obviously be done for para-sports’ upliftment, including support from national sports federations (NSF), India’s para-shuttlers didn’t need much to bag 12 medals at the Worlds in Basel. As reward they were handed a sum of Rs 1.82 lakh once they landed in the country.

Manasi acknowledged the sports ministry’s prompt response and amendment of rules to ensure that medal winners get their cash awards on the day of their return to the country after an international event and not at an annual ceremony.

“We got the reward as soon as we landed in India. We didn’t have to chase for the money. This change in attitude is refreshing. I congratulate the government and SAI for their dynamism.”

Not getting a shot at an Olympics gold in women’s singles at Tokyo 2020 (the SL3 singles category isn’t included in Para-badminton at the Games) doesn’t deflate her spirits, rather she has her eyes on qualifying and winning a medal in the mixed doubles section.

She hopes the SL3 category is included in the Olympics “sooner rather than later” but for now she wishes her World Championships gold would bring attention and attitudinal shift for investment in para-sports.

“I am very satisfied with my win. I worked hard for it. I made sure I kept at it,” she said, determined to stretch the limits of her achievement even further.

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My Khel Ratna award is a beacon of hope for Indian para-athletes, says Deepa Malik

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