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BCCI on Crutches For Wheelchair Cricketers?

BCCI on Crutches For Wheelchair Cricketers?

There are immense talents on wheels.The apex court says they must be made aided to be competitive, but the cricket body is out leg-before-wicket on the issue

Not all cricketers who slip into the Team India jersey are privileged. The euphemy is they are ‘differently abled’, but their spirit is sky high while their disabilities ground them down to wheelchairs.

And yet, there are ‘Sauravs’ and ‘Dravids’ in their very midst, though we, the ‘suitably abled’, look down upon them with pity… what a pity that is my countrymen!

These players have been patiently waiting for the cricket governing body, Board for Control of Cricket in India, or BCCI, to take them under its wings. For, the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ has given them some hope to live a dignified, perhaps gentlemanly life.

India’s wicket-keeper-batsman Nirmal Singh Dhillon, who hails from Moga in Punjab, is making ends meet by selling milk, while fast bowler Santosh Ranjagane repairs two-wheelers at a workshop in Kolhapur, Maharashtra.

Then,there is batsman PoshanDhruv, who works at a welding shop in a village in Raipur.

“There has been no communication with regard to policy formation for disabled cricketers. SouravGanguly had promised help. He did not have much idea about wheelchair cricket in India and he was surprised that we play at such a good level,” Somjeet was quoted as saying

With pandemic-induced lockdown shutting all businesses in March, Dhruv has been forced to work as a farm labour for a meagre daily earning of Rs 150.

They are all proud India cricketers, having played a key roles in the national team’s recent success but are struggling because they are yet to come under the BCCI


Apex Mandate

As per the reforms mandated by the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee, the BCCI was supposed to create a committee for the development of physically challenged cricketers in India but the cricket board is yet to fulfil its constitutional obligation.

BCCI President Saurav Ganguly had in the recent past discussed the issue with the CEO of Wheelchair Cricket India Association, according to Somjeet Singh, the captain of the Indian wheelchair team.

“There has been no communication with regard to policy formation for disabled cricketers. Sourav Ganguly had promised help. He did not have much idea about wheelchair cricket in India and he was surprised that we play at such a good level,” Somjeet was quoted as saying.

The 24-year-old Somjeet, himself a paraplegic (suffering complete paralysis of the lower half of the body due to damage to his spinal cord), played a key role in forming, first the UP Wheelchair Cricket Association and then the national association with Squadron Leader Abhai Pratap Singh, who was an ex-Air Force fighter pilot and on wheelchair himself.

The cricketers largely feel that the way BCCI lifted the profile of women’s game in India, the parent body can help them too.

In the absence of a BCCI-recognised body, many associations have mushroomed at the states level, forcing wheelchair cricketers to shell out money from their own pockets to pursue the sport they love.

“During our trip to Nepal, we were asked to pay Rs 15,000 which really broke my heart. Then I got attached with the association with which captain Somjeet is involved. They are taking care of us since then,” said Santosh, who lives off some grant from the Maharashtra government.

He gets a pension of Rs 1,000 from the state government and his father and brother help him by providing him with his grocery needs.

“Our game can reach out to more people if BCCI helps us. The players can play better tournaments,” said Santosh, who did a course in two-wheeler repairing to support his family but is not getting any work due to the pandemic.

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Referring to a confusion which , he felt, needs to be cleared, Somjeet saidsince two associations (for wheelchair cricketers), have registered with the ‘India’ name, the ambiguity will end as to which one is authentic, once BCCI makes a clear policy.

“There is recognition for para-athletes but nothing for us. We also take pride in representing the country. These cricketers don’t want people to pity them. All they want is equal opportunity,” said Somjeet, who has been the India captain since 2018.

Nirmal Singh,29, who has played against Bangladesh and Nepal, echoed him.

“I got to know about wheelchair cricket through Facebook. I cleared the trials, first for Punjab and then the Indian team last year. The game has given some hope to live a dignified life. We just want to make India proud and just need the basic support which only BCCI can give,” said Nirmal, who has two buffaloes and manages to earn Rs 4,000 by selling milk.

He also engages in polishing furniture at times. “What do I do, I have to support my mother.”

However, it seems the wait will be long for wheelchair cricketers to get some support from the BCCI.

“At this point, there are no sub committees in BCCI. The cricket for disabled will be a sub-committee of BCCI but it will take some time. The BCCI has already appealed to the Supreme Court for constitutional amendment. Let us get some clarity first,” said a BCCI official who did not wish to be named.

“The BCCI had earlier this year has rewarded the physically challenged Indian team that won in England last year. Each playing member got Rs 3 lakh,” he said, making a point that they tried to help the disabled cricketers.

But this is just not enough. The most powerful and richest cricket organisation in the world, BCCI needs to raise the bar of wheelchair cricket to the level of International Olympic Organisation’s paralympics and promote it across the world where this gets a pride of place in any nation’s sporting pantheon.

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