I woke up this morning to many missed calls and messages. Players, friends from Indian Paralympics and former players expressing absolute disappointment at finding the name of a nominee in a list recommended to the ministry. And for the nth time I spent a good part of my day listening to how depressing it is for the many who have been affected by the politics of India’s Para badminton scene. Trust me it is the hardest thing to do knowing that beyond repeatedly writing about the issue: I am powerless in the system.
It is that time of the year when the Indian Sports Ministry celebrates Indians’ achievements within the sports world. There is a nomination this year for the Dronacharya award that is given to an individual for highest coaching excellence.
Before you can be angered at how I am not supportive of the growing support for Indian para sports, I want to remind you. I come from the space of:
Disability Rights are Human Rights
Disability Rights must be at the center of Sport Governance practices for disability/para sports
Little corruption and rights violation is not okay to advance the bigger goals.
And Khanna’s name in the list further cements the apathy towards players with disabilities who do not have a democratic system in place for them to pursue competitive sports in India.
Who decides what is the bigger goal for Indian Para badminton? Who is one individual to decide how the entire system works? As absurd as it sounds that one person has had such a power, let me introduce you to another neglected part of India’s disability sports world.
Indian Para badminton.
For years, the space has been neglected by the world badminton federation, India’s NSFs and the government. But since 2014, with a shift in the ruling government’s attitude about how sports can be a positive influence on Indian citizens’ lives, the rush for power grabbing began. As it is normal, individuals within Indian para sport spaces who masquerade as the saviors of the sport are either active government employees or have worked in the government in the past. These are the Indians who are the lobbyists with connections in the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India who can get files moved and funds sanctioned.
The person who has been rescuing Indian para badminton players for years now is a government employee. And the problem with that is how over the years he has strong armed and controlled the group of players that he has managed to maintain. While many people may find my criticism of the existing system as being excessively harsh, I want to tell you:
When you hear the stories of how outspoken players have been shunned out from the system, when you listen and read evidence of how players with disabilities are being talked about as marketable and not-marketable persons, when you hear women speak about how they don’t feel safe about depending on one person for everything and then to be able to connect with that one person at the top, they have to stay connected to many other local self-appointed leaders, you end up just saying to yourself – What the hell is happening here?- it then also reminds you of how the existing system is dismantling years of disability rights advocacy. It screams at you how sports is not powerfully changing people’s lives for good but it is marginalizing the marginalized further more. While some people stand to benefit from Khanna’s smart tactics of making a broken system work for a handful few, it is important to note that if a player with disability was uncomfortable with Khanna’s working style, they slowly got dropped out of the entire ecosystem. It is even more important to note that one person decided who made the list to represent India or not represent India.
Read the list of embedded tweets to know what has been going on for years now and today the person responsible for openly exploiting persons with disabilities and the Indian government’s lack of knowledge about para sports was recommended for the highest sport coaching award of the country.
What can be your take away from this?
Disabled or not disabled, equitable access to sports is every citizen’s right. Sporting spaces must be safe spaces for all citizens. And India is yet to understand that we have no safe spaces for everyone to pursue sports.
“Upon withdrawal of recognition the NSF will cease to exercise the functions of the NSF for the concerned sport discipline. It shall forego the right to regulate and control the sport in India and select the national teams and represent India in international sports events and forums. It will also become ineligible to use India in its name or receive any benefit or concession meant for an NSF as detailed in clause 3.6 of the National Sports Development Code 2011.”
Section (III), Annexure III, NSDCI, 2011
In sharp contrast to celebrating sole medal wins at international events, today’s Indian sports news has occasional content discussing sport governance and athlete development. Since Rio 2016, the Indian Paralympic movement has had a steady increase in corporations and non-profit organizations supporting para athletes in India. Amidst these developments, India’s National Sports Federation (NSF) for promoting para-sports was placed under a suspension by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) in September 2019.
The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), is a National Paralympic Committee(NPC) under the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which is the world governing body for multiple para-sports. Despite a national suspension in September 2019, the PCI has continued to enjoy the elite status of an NSF. In looking at how a suspended NSF continues to solely control and manage one segment of Indian sports; one can understand the larger problems that loom over India’s sport governance scene. Despite a suspended status, PCI has not stopped sending teams abroad. The officials of the federation embroiled in multiple court battles continue to hold positions within the suspended NSF. Complicit in this long-standing controversy is the role of the IPC that has not made its decision clear on the Indian NPC’s suspended status. Since 2016 multiple stakeholders from the Indian Paralympic scene have contacted the IPC through email communications about sport governance problems that have been rampant inside the NSF. Despite such inputs over the last four years, the IPC has not taken actions to bring the Indian NPC under scanner for possible reforms.
After multiple communications with MYAS, PCI, and other stakeholders – I identified critical problem areas that continue to be ignored by India’s MYAS and the IPC to allow a dysfunctional federation to control para-sports governance in India.
In over a decade now, almost nil changes have been made to the NSDCI, 2011 ignoring the fast-changing sports scene in India. Athlete and federation needs are becoming much more complex and multi layered than before. Despite an elaborate list of guidelines listed in the NSDCI, 2011, MYAS does not have effective procedures in place to hold NSFs accountable for establishing transparency and efficiency as core governance requirements. While recent efforts to reform India’s sports code were met with opposition, one must not forget the plight of failing federations like the PCI that continue to function without robust governance structures in place.
On 25th October 2019, the IPC published a document titled ‘Remaining Fit For Purpose‘ that details many areas of NPC governance practices that it will review to improve Paralympic sport governance within its member countries. I use this document as a framework to explain the governance fails within PCI that need urgent attention from MYAS and the IPC to protect para athlete sporting rights in developing Paralympic nations like India.
Member Obligations from IPC: Responsibilities of PCI and Where it continues to fail
Here I quote the content from IPC’s Member Obligations section (Section 3.2.3) and explain where the problems lie within those areas in India’s Paralympic movement.
Additional obligations on NPCs will be introduced to protect them from government interference
With the NSDCI, 2011 and the NSF structure that is mandated to solely control and manage para sports in India, NSFs like PCI immensely benefit from millions of rupees in government funding to send para athletes to compete and represent India at international events. Applications to secure these funds and allotment of monies to NSFs is managed through the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which in its present form is not fully independent of government involvement. A small example of this is how the leadership appointment to the SAI is made and how the funds are released to SAI through the annual national sports budget. However, while the Right to Information Act, 2005 enables a system to request information from the NSFs, another major challenge within the Indian Paralympic scene is PCI’s reluctance to provide information through RTI Act, 2005. Despite funding PCI continuously, MYAS fails to have a mechanism in place through which issues like failure of NSFs to respond to RTI requests can be reported to the Ministry. To say the NSF structure is independent of government influence and interference would be inaccurate.
Members will also be required to meet obligations for athlete care and wellbeing
The PCI’s website presents an impressive list of state units and independent sport federations that form its electoral body. However, on deeper examination of these member units and inquiries, it is evident that a majority of these units have rarely functioned at least in partial compliance of the NSDCI, 2011. At the state levels, the state Registrar of Societies are responsible to ensure that these registered societies are functioning efficiently according to their own bylaws. Beyond this, the PCI is responsible to periodically check on these societies. However, over the years, rarely state championships have been conducted in all member states and almost nil records have been maintained. This was evidenced from an RTI response received from the PCI in 2019 through which the organization expressed its inability to maintain archival records. Multiple sport federations and state units have overlapping leadership positions that are headed by the same individuals for several years in a row. With such a functioning at State level units, PCI is popularly criticized among the Indian para athlete community for being a bargaining shop to sell foreign event spots where athletes can seek classification opportunities. PCI to this date does not have a mechanism where para athletes can reach out to report grassroots challenges in the hands of middlemen that control access to elite para sport competition opportunities. Reports of coercion and bullying from senior athletes are common. PCI does not have specific committees set up internally to address the specific needs of female athletes and junior athletes. In instances where athletes have questioned the lack of transparency, efforts have been made to silence them while reminding them of their impending careers.
Members will be required to meet minimum governance requirements including having gender parity
Beyond India’s famous Rio2016 medalist Deepa Malik, India’s Paralympic movement demonstrates indigent gender ratios. Reviewing lists on PCI’s website one can find an impressive list of women para athletes who are registered with PCI for the year 2020. Sadly, if one can look at the top of the image here below, it is clear that anyone can make an unverified entry here. This is an unreliable way of reporting athlete numbers within an NSF (I made the entry titled ‘God’).
Outside Malik and her media presence, India’s Paralympic movement has almost nil gender parity at the leadership level. Nowhere within PCI’s governance documents can one witness priority focus to advance women para athletes’ presence within India’s Paralympic movement. Email inquiries regarding governance practices never receive responses. Within the sport governance world, sports finance is a the backbone of any federation. And when one can look at the procedures followed by PCI for financial transactions, it is evident that they continue to violate the laws. For example, since its suspension in September 2019, PCI is disallowed from collecting monies or managing para sports in India. However, since its suspension, the NSF has opened a new State Bank of India (SBI) account operational from October 2019 (Account Name: Selenium Sports; Account Number: XXXX XXXX-688; IFSC Code: SBIN0007637). In the past few months, athletes have been asked to send registration fee monies to this account. On seeking clarification from PCI in a private forum about refund of athletes’ money due to the COVID-19 related event cancellations, this was the response given by Gurusharan Singh, the Secretary General of PCI:
“There is no entry or competition fee for any competitions. Do not raise irrelevant queries? I am not there to answer your any informal queries if it is not asked as per prescribed rules. I have lot of other official work to complete and I don’t subscribe to waste my time and energy on your wasteful and irrelevant questions for upgrading your skill. However I would always welcome suggestions, comments which are constructive and developmental. I in any case not under any obligation to reply, it is only my option. Further, for your information, I am working honorary and not even charged a single rupee since 9 years (not even on conveyance) from PCI. Rather I have extended unsecured loans to PCI for its smooth running. My sole moto is service to the society. I don’t know what impressions you have for me? So plz, you are requested to interact with me not with prejudice mind! Thx”
Ironically, the question that prompted this response was:
“I have a question to members of this group – especially athletes. If you are uncomfortable messaging in the group – please personal message me.
QUESTION: I want to know if all money (entry fees etc) from cancelled events due to COVID-19 have been paid back to athletes? Can I know if money has been returned? Or any email to that effect sent to athletes?
Financial transparency, accountability for PCI leadership’s decisions and other sport governance basics are problems of the failing federation. Yet, PCI despite its suspended status continues to further marginalize the community of athletes with disabilities who struggle to bring together funds for competing to qualify for the Paralympics.
Members will also be mandated not to participate or engage in any event, activity or competition of an IPC member who is suspended or expelled from the IPC, whether at international, regional or national level.
As of today, India’s NPC is a suspended body at the national level. Despite repeated attempts by multiple stakeholders to inform the IPC of the same, the IPC continues to enable PCI at the international level while disregarding a National government’s suspension of a sports body. And from what is evident so far, MYAS’ suspension of PCI is not baseless. Yet, the IPC with not a single site visit or independent investigation decides that they know better than the Indian government.
Beyond these issues, PCI critically lacks the presence of technically qualified officials called Classifiers who are critical to the development of any nation’s Paralympic movement. Two categories of classifiers – medical and technical – lead any classification panel which allocates a sport class to a para athlete who wants to pursue competition opportunities. In a 2016 report authored by the then Director General of SAI, Injeti Srinivas there is a clear mention of the lack of ‘technical domain expertise’ as a critical shortcoming in India and that India needs IPC’s support for development. Yet in four years since Rio2016 PCI and IPC could not fix the technical domain deficiency that India critically suffers with.
In over two decades of its existence, PCI has been suspended by the IPC and the Indian Government on multiple occasions. Beyond the suspensions, reinstatement of PCI to its status as a sole controller for para sports governance in India, was not followed up with audits or reviews for checking on improvements (both by MYAS and IPC). Otherwise, with multiple world record holders vying for Paralympic medals at the next Games, India would not be putting its best foot forward through a nationally suspended federation that has its bank accounts still frozen, and name still tarnished!
“You see, what you promise for the future, is strengthened by what you have done in the past. You have done nothing in the past, and promise everything in the future, your credibility suffers!”
India’s former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao said this in response to Shekar Gupta’s question about why discussions about India’s political past and history take center stage within our country’s political discourse. Continuing to explain his response Mr. Rao said, “We have more in the past, much more in the past, in our past, than in the past of the other country people you were referring to.” This point of view is pertinent to India’s Paralympic world also. For us to not lose sight of the Paralympic big picture in India, we must pay attention to how Indian Paralympics has arrived at where it is today. With very little public information available within India about its Paralympic movement, we have no choice but to rely on anecdotal information and document analysis as our data sources.
Today India has a fairly impressive presence at global para sports events.The medal counts are growing. India’s participation in global events is on rise. Para athletes in multiple sports are able to tap into corporate social responsibility (CSR) monies and government funding mechanisms for sport participation. If you view India’s Paralympic world from the medals and awards angle, we are on the rise. We will continue to rise.
But is that enough to equitably serve the growing number of para athletes in India who are rapidly taking up sports with a desire that it will help them improve their lives?
My answer is a no. Having understood that disability rights are central to any disability sport movement, I see the relevance of its application more required for the Indian context than any where else.
In ‘The Indian Paralympic Story Comes of Age,’ Deepti Boppiah and Aparna Ravichandran detail how Paralympics gained momentum to reach its present day grandeur in India. While they discuss elaborately the accomplishments of the Rio athletes, before and beyond, the narrative is carefully constructed to not call out the major challenges (including a highly dysfunctional sport federation) that plague the system inside India. As a country, even today India is being force fed post-event sports reporting that often focuses only on Indian para athletes’ achievements. Indian sport journalists writing for mainstream media outlets are not yet reporting on the selection procedures or state and national level activities of the one federation that continues to enjoy unrestricted access to the power corridors of India’s sports ministry — Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).
Does India’s National Paralympic Committee comply with the NSDCI, 2011?
Paralympic Committee of India is one of the three annually recognized National Sport Federations (NSFs) for disability sport in India. As an NSF, PCI must annually fulfill all the eligibility criteria set forth by the Ministry of Youth Affairs (MYAS) through its National Sport Development Code of India (NSDCI), 2011. MYAS is solely responsible to ensure that PCI meets the eligibility criteria annually, before it continues to support the NSF’s activities. Section 6.1(b) of the NSDCI (2011) clearly mentions that NSFs are fully responsible for a multitude of activities that pertain to sport administration. The purpose of the annual recognition to NSFs is explained as a necessary process to ensure “NSFs maintain certain basic standards, norms and procedures with regard to their internal functioning, which conform to the high principles and objectives laid down by the concerned International Federation, and which are also in complete consonance with the principles laid down in the Olympic Charter or in the constitution of the Indian Olympic Association while being compliant with Government guidelines applicable to NSFs.”
Section 8.3 of the NSDCI (2011) provides an exhaustive list of guidelines (Annexure-II) that guide MYAS to award annual recognition to NSFs. The important question for us to ask here is,
“Does PCI fulfill all the criteria to be awarded an annual recognition every year?”
No. PCI to this date has failed to comply with many aspects of the NSDCI (2011). Historically ignored by sport journalistic reporting and buried under volumes of ‘inspiration porn’ that continues to dominate India’s para sports news, PCI has constantly skirted its way out of being accountable to the law of this land. As of today, MYAS does not have an efficient mechanism in place that can hold PCI accountable for its poor administrative practices. This is evident in the form of how MYAS does not have information pertaining to PCI that details recent national championships or state level activities (I received an RTI response from MYAS saying that all the requested information remains with NSFs). While it might seem unrealistic to some that I expect MYAS to have all information about an NSF, one must remember that the very same NSF receives major funding from a component of the MYAS — Sports Authority of India (SAI). And in today’s digital India, some structured record keeping in this context is not an unrealistic ask.
Well until the early part of 2019, PCI never disclosed the details of all their state units and associate sport federations on their website which was mandated by the NSDCI, 2011. After I made repeated RTI requests and wrote emails to MYAS officials raising concerns on the lack the information, on June 17, 2019, PCI updated their website. If one can keenly scan through the section, it will be interesting to note that PCI requires its state and union territory para sports associations in India to reach out to grass roots level for continuing their recognition as a member of PCI. However, in an RTI response I received from PCI on 12 July, 2019, I was informed that PCI had no records of any para sports work carried out by Mr. Madasu Srinivasa Rao who runs the Para Sports Association – Andhra Pradesh (Telangana). I was provided his contact details to seek the information from him directly (Two years ago, an attempt I made to inquire about state level activities from Srinivasa Rao was met with hostility and verbal abuse before he hung up the call on me). So I know contacting him again is futile. PCI’s response to my RTI question seeking access to archival data clearly violates some of the requirements for NSFs to keep their annual recognition. Despite the violations, PCI enjoys the much privileged NSF status that in turn allows it unrestricted access to corridors of SAI also. Despite lofty claims made by PCI it is evident that the NSF has no dependable functioning system in place at the state and district levels. In words of a Rio 2016 para athlete, many state units have no structure or annual events. Still they come up with a list of athletes for the nationals conducted by PCI. This is another violation of the NSDCI (2011) which requires NSFs seeking annual recognition to annually conduct district and state-level events to name national teams that can represent India. Yet, annual recognition continues to be awarded to PCI and the SAI funding continues.
No Functional District Level and State Level Units to Send Athletes to Nationals
Without an effective feeder mechanism that can connect the grassroots level with para athletes’ access to place on international teams, PCI continues to leave the system open for corruption, power play and lobbying based limited access of the top for a select few athletes. If our para athletics goal as a country is to count the medals won by a carefully curated group of athletes with disabilities, we can be rest assured that we have the worst corrupt system in place through PCI. Purposive sampling of athletes based on limited access to lobbyists who can work their way through the broken government machinery is a clear violation of the ‘Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement’ that is mandated by the NSDCI, 2011 (Section 9.3 – Conditions of eligibility). And PCI is full of multiple groups headed by a local leader who has a direct contact in the board. Any para athlete from India can roll out the names on inquiries. If you are not in close proximity with the groups, you have no open access to what the system is.
As someone who has interacted with some major power players inside PCI, I am boldly writing here what many stakeholders inside India’s Paralympic world complain about. If MYAS is serious about fixing the problems that are complicating the Paralympic ecosystem in India, it must be willing to revamp PCI’s internal functioning. MYAS must bring in Indian youth with sport management degrees and physical education or sport degrees to become a part of PCI’s system.
The Paperless Corruption of India’s National Paralympic Committee
Satyanarayana, PCI’s high jump coach unofficially runs the NSF’s Bangalore office (In response to an RTI question, PCI wrote to me that he is a volunteer coach. However, anyone in India’s Paralympic world knows that Satyanarayana is almost always present in PCI’s Bangalore office and is a standard presence even in meetings chaired by the President during the Annual General Body Meetings. In the US, I personally witnessed how he unofficially got things done for PCI). When I met him at Desert Challenge, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona, he confidently detailed to me how his strong presence inside PCI and his power play of controlling the entire Paralympic system inside India is paper less and how nothing can ever be traced back to him on paper. As a Railways employee, Satyanarayana shamelessly explained to me how the Government job he has occupied for over two decades will award him a heavy pension despite him barely ever making it to his official duties. He went on to add details of how he managed to float a company that imports para sports equipment into India. And that he gets all his work done with the foreign vendors when he travels out with the PCI teams. Interestingly the company is owed lakhs of rupees by PCI (refer to PCI’s audit statements available on their website and look up a name ‘Hight International Sports Management: 29BMYPS7202P1ZU’). Conflict of interest is a non existential concept within PCI. MYAS’s RTI response to my questions about Satyanarayana’s role inside PCI directed me to PCI. PCI in its response said he was a volunteer coach. If he is a volunteer coach, how has he continued to make major administrative decisions inside PCI? (I personally know an athlete who paid their way into an Asian Para Games team by bribing Satyanarayana through another coach in South India). Any random person picked out of India’s Paralympic movement will tell you to what extent Satyanarayana controls the NSF’s functioning in Bangalore. I literally watched him from two feet away when he boldly talked about circumventing MYAS’s broken system to ‘feed’ athletes that approached him for an entry into the national scene.With absence of robust district and state level mechanisms in the country for para sports, is this an equitable process for all athletes who want to try and represent their country internationally? So last year when I opposed his fight for a Dronacharya, I had solid rationale behind it. By merely poaching a raw talent like Mariyappan Thangavelu, does one deserve a Dronacharya? Within India’s corrupt Paralympic world, Satyanarayana is one of the key players who must not be forgotten. To not forget one must physically witness how he treats his poached athletes with disabilities. If one can look at the scenario from a disability rights angle, it will make sense. Disenfranchised athletes with disabilities who know there are only two aisles in this journey and one aisle is the power players’ territory and the other is a lonely struggle with a broken system in which, one must be incredibly lucky to make it to the top.
Mariyappans and Medals of India’s Paralympic World
During the same time I met Satyanarayana, I quizzed Mariyappan about his coach. As Satyanarayana went out to tour and sight see in and around Phoenix after the high jump event, Mariyappan stayed in the hotel room as always is apparently the case. I had the chance to strike a conversation with Mariyappan as I drove him to an Indian restaurant for his first real meal of the day. His answer was simple and not shocking to me.
“Akka [sister in Tamil], for London 2012, I couldn’t make the team because I didn’t know how to navigate the politics that were heavily dominated by people from North. So when my turn came for 2016, I took his [Satyanarayana’s] side so that I could move ahead in the process.” For months after our conversation, I tried communicating with Mariyappan about the importance of his position within the ecosystem and how he can create a positive influence. You won’t be surprised to know that he slowly avoided conversations with me since then. If you spend the two days I spent observing him closely, you will understand how Indian athletes with disabilities are treated within this system. In some parts of the world, it is called human rights violation.
I am not questioning Mariyappan’s accomplishment at Rio 2016. I am questioning the way he got there. How many more Mariyappans have we left behind as a country in our mad rush to count the medals? And in poaching people with disabilities like Mariyappan, let us not forget that through a person like Satyanarayana, we continue to keep the corrupt system well fed. Satyanarayana is just one of the many lynchpins of India’s corrupt Paralympic system. There are many more and I will continue to write about them instead of complaining about them in private conversations.
About an year ago, I started publishing the findings from my field research about wheelchair basketball publicly. For about three weeks after that, there were sporadic discussions for and against my findings mostly only among the people who either played or managed (or coached) the sport. Many players and coaches personally communicated with me their strong agreement about the problems and challenges I listed in my articles. Despite their acknowledgments, they were uncomfortable about sharing my articles or their opinion about them publicly. The reasons were obvious. The general secretary of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is quite vocal when it comes to expressing her displeasure about any players or coaches expressing their disagreements about the functioning of the Federation. I have reviewed many written communications that were sent out to state members and state leaderships by the general secretary of the Federation which are condescending and disrespectful in tone. There are two kinds of state level members within WBFI’s ecosystem.
One are the persons with disabilities who are empowered and have no hesitation in pointing out disability rights violation. Two are the kind of persons with disabilities who are accustomed to rights violation at many levels of public life and have subsequently taught themselves to accept poor quality treatment (primarily citizens who are depending on the opportunities provided by WBFI to improve their quality of life). The first kind of members rarely are allowed to grow into leadership roles. If you are empowered and can voice your opinions, you are instantly disliked by WBFI’s leadership.
Conversations with people who personally continued to interact with me kept bringing back the same information of inaccessible stadia around the country, indignant accommodation arrangements during national level events, lack of understanding about managing state bodies for the sport. I personally don’t mind listening to the problems of players and coaches if they keep talking to me. But past a point I began to wonder what was the use of going to the US Capitol on SHAPE America’s Speak Out Day? And what was the point of hearing the likes of Candace Cable, Judith Heumann or Victor Pineda speak passionately about organizing and protesting if I cannot help organize advocacy efforts here at home.
So here is yet another attempt to organize the information in one place and to also provide an update on what has happened since my last blog post about WBFI and the problems surrounding their administration practices.
Section one will present deeper facts about WBFI. The facts I have left out in the past blog articles to prevent political ramifications.
Section two will discuss rights violation of persons with disabilities who continue to be involved in the WBFI ecosystem. (Coming soon)
Section three will make recommendations to create solutions for the above listed challenges. (Coming soon)
WBFI never responded back to my emails but issued a statement about a few points I raised in my blog posts. They conveniently ignored many key questions and concerns I raised in those posts. WBFI’s President and General Secretary intensely use Whatsapp group communications to push and prod state members to comply with their demands. Interestingly while information about the wheelchair basketball movement in India is widely shared and discussed in these groups, both Madhavi Latha or Kalyani Rajaraman maintained radio silence about my blog posts or their responses. Their statement in responses to my blog posts was posted in a discreet location under a misleading title. Since I keep reviewing their site regularly for any new changes, I caught the new addition.
Please note that all the information that is being presented in this post is a product of my fieldwork concerning wheelchair basketball in India. The fieldwork included many activities and was not limited to only document review, review of existing policies and laws for the rights of persons with disabilities in India and several hours of conversations with players and officials in the sport, to list a few.
In looking back at the information that is publicly available about WBFI, one cannot ignore the spike of this association’s activity across the country since the later part of 2017. In my own conversations with people within the movement, at least two key people have confirmed to me that the following is a fact. WBFI’s general secretary is Kalyani Rajaraman. Mrs. Rajaraman’s husband is a central government employee and his details are in the image below. During the course of multiple interviews with many people, I have repeatedly learnt that this government connection was instrumental in rapidly pressurizing state and district level administrations and local bodies to organize wheelchair basketball events under the guise of a development camp, while disability rights were being constantly violated (for example: suppressing opposing voices, creating discord among organized groups to control state level administration of the sport, bypassing state leadership to poach players with disabilities to become local ‘eyes and ears’ for the Chennai leadership – to list a few).
While I understand the seriousness of naming a senior government official in this post, I would like for WBFI to deny having this connection and to confirm that his position in the government was not used to put unofficial pressure on state level administrations to conduct a flood of development workshops without considering the grassroots realities and challenges that surround disability rights in each of these states. For the record, please refer to my previous blog posts where I have named a government official within the Sport ministry who has confirmed this government connection and its abuse for WBFI to gain access into the power corridors of the sport ministry.
The problem with using government official’s connections to rapidly grow a state level sport association towards attaining a national sport federation status (NSF) is obvious.
It breeds control and misuse of power.
If the sport ministry can care to investigate the rapid growth of a state level association, it will be interesting to note that,to this date WBFI is not compliant with some of the most basic requirements from the National Sport Development Code of India, 2011.
When the organization was first registered in 2014-2015, how was a state level association allowed to take the word India into its title even though they did not have a national level status in the country at that time?
For a good percentage of this problem to be growing in size is the international regulating body for wheelchair basketball (IWBF) continuing its support to WBFI despite many complaints that have been sent to the international body.
It is disappointing to note that many senior officials within the international body recognize the administrative problems that continue to grow with each passing day in WBFI. However they continue to turn a blind eye to the problem by blaming the Indian government’s incompetence to regulate the functioning of an organization like WBFI in India. IWBF will not hold the Chennai office accountable and blame GoI. And as long as IWBF keeps enabling WBFI through the affiliation, the likes of Kalyani Rajaraman and Madhavi Latha will violate the broken system. Hasn’t the 2015 IPC’s ban of INDIAN NPC taught these world bodies nothing?
How can WBFI conduct national championships while having nil district level organization and development of the sport?
Since their inception, WBFI has not conducted a single election or has organized the state leadership from all the states to come together and be involved in an election or concern sharing process. Please don’t mention the symposium that happened last year. During the symposium, many questions and concerns are brushed aside by the WBFI leadership while forcing state members to submit paperwork for seeking affiliation that would allow WBFI to control the states.
WBFI’s administration framework quite bravely ignores the bylaws that were incorporated into forming the state level society for promoting wheelchair basketball in India.
The harshest reality surrounding a person with disability in India is the blatant violation of their accessibility rights in public spaces. While accessibility is only one aspect of leading an active life, availability of sports and physical activity opportunities (without robust functional structures) boldly add more problems to the mix. So in trying to organize and manage Disability Sport opportunities in a country like India, administrators and Sport Management professionals must be trained in advancement of disability rights through advocacy.
WBFI’s leadership continues to operate more as event managers than as sport administrators. Indians with disabilities have been organizing at micro levels to overcome barriers within their own communities for many years now. And at the grassroots level, WBFI’s unprofessional management of the sport is in fact disorganizing the organized groups of persons with disabilities and creating multiple groups of people who are opposing each other (at times greedily) to benefit from the broken system that is perpetuating across the country – thanks to WBFI’s ignorance about disability rights.
This official statement is being issued with the approval of the Executive Committee of the WBFI. This is necessitated because some individuals are using social media to spread views about the WBFI and its governance which are not only defamatory but also based on incorrect facts and misplaced perceptions.
– Opening statement in the document released by WBFI.
It is not a mystery that this document is an indirect respond to the complaints/questions I raised through my previous article about WCBB in India.
Before I make another attempt to explain to WBFI that their governance structure is creating problems at the grassroots levels (while also failing to comply with global standards), I will list a few reasons to tell why I continue to analyze this ecosystem. If you want one short answer:
Research can aid the analysis of complex ecosystems such as this to create sustainable solutions!
And this is what I do as a job. My personal connection to this cause (or say my bias): stories of human rights violation at grassroots level are hard for me to ignore. My rights based training to create solutions does not allow me to walk away from witnessing a problem that has only continued to cause more damage than benefit.
India to this date does not have disability sport researchers who are conducting empirical research to support the Government’s work for policy reform (to meet fast evolving governance demands from international disability sport organizations).
Every year I spend at least four weeks in India to immerse myself into the ground realities that surround the lives of persons with disabilities here. I am not a foreigner who wants to transplant ‘foreign/western’ practices. To learn further about where the professional philosophy of Indians like us comes from, read this.
Critical lack of enumerated data that considers variables like disability and sport – is the most serious challenge India faces today. With no credible data, holding Disability Sport Organizations (DSOs) accountable is becoming hard with each passing year.
Can’t count them, can’t protect them.
Absence of professionals who can pursue this line of critical inquiry into the systems (that are allowing power play within the Indian disability sport scene). The direct result of this is violation of the rights of persons with disabilities while federation governing bodies continue to function under minimal legislative oversight.
MORE QUESTIONS FOR WBFI’s Executive Committee
Kindly refer to my original article where I have in detail raised my questions about your lack of compliance with the NSCI, 2011.
1 to 7: You are stating the obvious with out explaining:
(a) your provisional affiliation with PCI and the current status of your affiliation after new PCI board members took office under Mr. Rao Inderjit Singh’s leadership; (b) How WBFI can have the term ‘India’ assigned to its registration as a society?; (c) There is no mention of YWTC Charitable Trust in your responses (this trust has been involved in monetary contributions into the WCBB movement in India. And so far the legal connection that exists between both these organizations is not clear); (d) ICRC has continued to be a long term partner and is publicly known to support WBFI’s efforts to promote WCBB in India. However ICRC is missing from all financial documentation that is so far made publicly available.
To this date, your bylaws are not provided publicly on the website. Nor are the affiliation documents from PCI and IWBF.
You are also not explaining why the same draft of bylaws are being forced to be used at the state levels (There are many emails to this record from Mrs. Kalyani that have been sent out to state members enforcing their use). Why should State members use a draft that is provided by WBFI? Aren’t society bylaws to be drafted focused on what is the local context and need for the society to be created for? Also until I uploaded your organization documents here, no one had access to your organizations bylaws and internal regulations. Yet, WBFI was forcing state members to sign a certification that they will abide by WBFI’s regulations.
Also, why are State members unaware of their voting rights within WBFI?
Why hasn’t WBFI conducted a single election since it’s inception? If elections were impractical for the complex circumstances under which WBFI was working hard to promote the sport, why wasn’t any information regarding this situation ever communicated to its active members?
Which disabled people’s organizations and Indian NGOs has WBFI partnered with locally?
8: Why aren’t there clear records of the 19 States that participated in your programs? Why aren’t the details of the State members, their leaderships at the state level available on your website?
10: When state members were not even registered as affiliate members (well into the early part of 2017), how can WBFI claim to have conducted National Championships with national level teams? For example, Delhi State Association to this date despite being one of the oldest team on the scene is not an affiliate member.
12: I have first hand information (as a core volunteer) on how accessibility measures were taken up in 2016 (Hyderabad) and how the funds were allocated for building ramps that were later disposed off from the accommodation venue. These practices that WBFI has in place are not rights centered. They are more based on the lines of ‘event convenience’ and the vision for ensuring accessibility is restricted to the events.
13: Aspiring to attain an NSF status is commendable. Then WBFI must also be willing to comply with all the requirements that MYAS mandates through the NSCI, 2011 (pages 11 and 12) for federations to seek recognition as an NSF. At present, WBFI is in clear violation of these criteria to attain eligibility.
14: The Symposium for State Associations was conducted after I emailed WBFI and other stakeholders questioning your governance structure. At the Symposium, many State members were disallowed from asking rights based questions. Members that I have interviewed also mentioned that there was open demand for hastening the registration process despite critical lack of resources at the State level.
The Goa Controversy at Erode ‘Nationals’ 2018
Below are the screenshots of social media posts from persons with disabilities in Goa who complained against the manner in which the Goa ‘National’ team was formed to participate in Erode ‘Nationals’. Goa’s team at Erode Nationals was made up of predominantly Maharashtra players. And I am unable to understand why these projected activities have to happen.
[I have not taken permissions from these individuals whose comments and posts I have shared here. If there is any objection from anyone, I will remove the images]
Where is the athlete with disability and their voice in the middle of all this chaos?
WBFI’s aspirations, goals and ambitions to become an NSF (apex body to control WCBB in India) are evident from their selectively (also carelessly) drafted statement. And in simple terms, this is a, “Which arrived first? The hen or the egg?” problem. And we all know how clear the answer to it is!
Should WBFI be compliant with the NSCI, 2011 for at least three years before they can get the NSF status from MYAS?
Will they get the NSF status (because of their privileged access to the Ministry) and then be required to be compliant with the NSCI, 2011?
In the middle of all this chaos, the questions remain!
Where are the rights of persons with disabilities who want to play WCBB in India?
Should they continue to barter their freedom of speech with access to WCBB?
IF THERE WAS NO FEAR OF REPERCUSSIONS AMONG THESE SOURCES THAT CONTINUE TO SHARE WITH ME THE DATA, I WOULDN’T HAVE TO KEEP THEIR IDENTITIES ANONYMOUS.
After being introduced to Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI)’s President in December 2015, I volunteered for WBFI for about an year. Prior to volunteering with WBFI, I travelled to Chennai on January 16, 2016 to meet WBFI’s Executive Committee members. When Ms. Madhavi Latha asked me about an agenda for the meeting, this was my email response to her.
Greetings. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my ideas in front of such a wonderful group of professionals. Following will be points that I will be talking about:
1. What are the potential opportunities for WBFI to collaborate with over seas educational institutions
2. Encouraging research documenting WBFI work and its athletes’ sport performance
3. Collaborations beyond sporting bodies for promoting wheelchair sports in India
I will look forward to meeting you all soon,
Before I even went to meet WBFI’s team in January 2016, I spent long hours helping Ms. Madhavi Latha generate content for her social media accounts. Three samples of my supposed ‘art work’ are here here below. These still adorn the Facebook account of Ms. Madhavi Latha’s family own/run charitable trust. I am clueless on how to react today as I continue to watch this content.
During 2016, a good percentage of my free time over the weekends was spent in ‘volunteering’ for WBFI. Volunteering included elaborate phone conversations with WBFI’s then and current President Ms. Madhavi Latha, authoring internal documents that were used as contracts for events, connecting local professionals in Hyderabad for a national camp – to list a few things I did. The people I interacted with also included the then ICRC representatives based out of New Delhi and foreign coaches who had travelled to India for WBFI’s training camps.
After volunteering for over several weeks, having identified many challenges that repeatedly kept coming up in the way WBFI functioned, I made several attempts to explain to Ms. Madhavi Latha why their approach and accountability measures needed to improve in order to meet international standards for sport governance. From the time I started questioning how the financials were being handled, I slowly began to be avoided and gradually lost access to volunteering for WBFI. One of my major disagreements with Ms. Madhavi Latha’s leadership was that there was no distribution of responsibilities to persons with disabilities (PwDs) at the state and district levels so that they could be empowered to more efficiently contribute to the WCBB movement in India. To this date, the way WBFI is spread widely in India at the grassroots level is a mere presentation of carefully controlled information. Ground realities are abysmal to state the least. The internal structure of WBFI was and is – all control rested(s) with two people: Ms. Madhavi Latha (President) and Mrs. Kalyani Rajaraman (Secretary General). And as I continued to explore the Adapted Sports scene in India, my conversations took me beyond India. In my elaborate interactions with a board member of the international governing body for wheelchair basketball this was one of the responses I received [not verbatim].
Sri! I hear you! You are asking IWBF to intervene and ask WBFI why they are coercing persons with disabilities and …..question all these other administrative practices that are causing burdens for PwD in your country.. But let me ask you this: your own government doesn’t care that persons with disabilities are being bullied and coerced. When your own government doesn’t care, when the people who are complaining to you in private conversations don’t go file police complaints or raise issues with the relevant disability rights bodies, why should IWBF interfere? The burden is not on us. All that IWBF is concerned about is WBFI paying their dues and maintaining their status. How they function internally is your government’s responsibility. Don’t blame the international body for it! ……Let me also tell you, no one at IWBF is happy with the way Madhavi is running the show. But is there anyone better at all? No one else wants to do this. So we let it be.”
When a foreigner talks to you like this about the reality of your country, trust me, it hits you in the gut. While I hate this person’s honesty, they had a point. That Skype meeting, that one conversation set me out on organizing my efforts over a span of several months. My goal was to identify why WBFI is not willing to engage so many other experts across India who are already doing high quality work in the disability rights movement. Meanwhile, WBFI continued to grow at an unprecedented speed for being a ‘new’ disability sport organization (DSO). As I kept gathering data, more things became clear to me on why two Indians are able to practically control and dictate the scene. I was able to identify major gaps in how DSOs function within the country and why the Indian government looks like it doesn’t care about protecting the rights of PwDs who want to participate in organized disability sport.
I must agree, while digging through WBFI’s structure and practices, I learnt a lot about how sport federations at large function in India. This present work focused on WCBB is intended to bring to light what is not visible to the common citizen’s eye. For many volunteers and donors who support WBFI, this content will come as a shock. The primary purpose of this work is to educate the reader on a least researched sport ecosystem in India. Further this work is intended to also communicate with a global audience, the many questions and concerns that PwDs raise within the WCBB scene in India. This is because my own interaction with several Indians has identified that a majority of citizens look at disability from a charity angle in India (some reading material for the difference between human rights based model of disability and charity model of disability are provided below).
Months ago, before I went public with the information I identified about WBFI, I reached out to a board member of WBFI and gave them a heads up that their functioning needs a major over haul. There was a small cosmetic fix to the problem. Suddenly, the annual reports and audit reports of WBFI were added to the website (unclear when exactly these changes were made. But earlier to my work becoming public, audit reports were never publicly available on WBFI’s website).
To this date, WBFI functions as a registered society based out of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Registered in October 2014, many aspects of their inception are questionable. Their bylaws, memorandum of association, affiliation documentation connected to Paralympic Committee of India and IWBF are not available on their website. I have secured all the organization related documents from the Registrar Office in Chennai through an official request in June 2018. The affiliation documents of WBFI were shared with me by a source within WBFI’s membership.
After my own failed efforts to initially volunteer-educate Ms. Madhavi Latha and the other key stakeholders who were power playing the system to win the NSF status race, I tried initiating a due process with the GoI’s Sports Ministry. After further failing to find answers for the questions I get from athletes, coaches and administrators at the grassroots level, I am publicly sharing my learning. Using the WCBB situation in India as a case study, one can only imagine the complexities that surround sport governance surrounding DSOs in India.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
On April 22, 2018: I publish the first post explaining why I am looking into the ecosystem and why I want to write about it publicly.
April 23, 2018: I speak to one of WBFI’s Board Members and give them a heads up that I will not stopping looking into this and won’t stop asking questions until WBFI’s functioning improves.
April 24, 2018: I contact the CEO of PCI, New Delhi and inquire about WBFI’s affiliation status with PCI.
May 8, 2018: After two telephonic reminders, I received a response from him as follows:
Dear Ms. Padmini,
This has reference of your mail dated 24.4.2018 on the above subject.
Please find below the information desired by you :
1. Yes Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is affiliated to PCI for around 5 years.
The affiliation of the Affiliated Members is reviewed at regular intervals.
2. WBFI is an independent sports federation and the process for affiliation process for Independent sports federation is slightly different from that of the State. The independent sports federation should also be an affiliated member of the International Sports Federation of the respective sport.
3. The process to be followed for a sports association to seek affiliation from PCI is mentioned in PCI Bye Laws which are available on PCI website (www.paralympicindia.org.in ). You can also refer the same with regard to the Affiliation process adopted by PCI.
Gp Capt S Shamshad (Retd)
[Find PCI’s Bylaws here. According to these bylaws, WBFI did not meet the requirements to seek affiliation from PCI in 2014. WBFI was registered as a society on October 20, 2014 and on December 24, 2014, they received a provisional affiliation from PCI. The affiliation document that WBFI currently holds is dated from 2014. PCI amended their bylaws after they were reinstated post a ban from IPC. And the affiliation provided to WBFI in 2014 was ‘provisional’. Currently there is no further information available publicly that can explain if WBFI’s eligibility to be a self-declared ‘national body’ has been reviewed by PCI.]
May 5, 2018: I publish on my blog all the quotes I collect from the members of WCBB movement in India
Until then I heard for many months about a ‘training’ WBFI was planning for state units which never happened since the Federation started its operations in 2014 as a registered society based out of Chennai.
May 11, 2018: I send an email to over forty Indians (including Sports Secretary, GoI’s MYAS, ICRC, PCI and WBFI) raising serious concerns about the governance structure of WBFI and the need for government oversight into their functioning. I never received any direct responses for the email from the key leaders who received my email. After a few follow up phone calls to the Sport Secretary’s office at Shastri Bhawan, I hit a dead end. In the telephonic conversations, a staff member had mentioned to me WBFI’s Secretary General by her name and also mentioned to me about her spouse being a high ranking IAS officer ‘yahaan pe Dilli mein’ (In Hindi: ‘Here, in Delhi). This was a red flag for me (Something you must know, in the WCBB world of India, this point is a rabbit hole into which you don’t want to further dig into. I did dig into it and found it to be equally scary and unnerving. The sheer extent of how things become possible with political access to the government is shocking for me). Find attached here the email I wrote to Col. Rathore after my last phone call to the Sport Secretary’s office. Next AM, around 8:30 or 9:00 AM I received a phone call from Mr. Kaushik lamenting about the contents of my email. He requested me to not write such emails and assured that the Sport Secretary’s office will respond.
June 7, 2018: All stakeholders at state levels receive an email announcement from WBFI’s Secretary General announcing a two day symposium for state wheelchair basketball associations. Some big names were roped in for this symposium. What information was shared at this symposium and how participants at this symposium felt is an altogether different discussion.
July 4, 2018: I receive the following email from a Section I of the Sport Secretary’s office.
If WBFI is a national body for wheelchair basketball in India (as they claim on their website), are they audited each year by MYAS? Are they required to be compliant with the National Sports Development Code (NSDC), 2011 for their governance and conduct?
WBFI is not an NSF recognized by this Ministry.
IF PCI is an NSF, aren’t all organizations affiliated to PCI required to be compliant with the NSDC, 2011?
PCI is a recognized National Sports Federation. Implementation of NSDC, 2011 in the affiliated unites of PCI the responsibility of PCI.
I have repeatedly asked for documentation that explains the affiliation of WBFI with PCI. This is not being made available publicly. I have not received any evidence of such a document for either PCI or WBFI. If such a document exists, why can’t it be shared with the stakeholders?
The information is to be sought from PCI, as this department does not possess the same. The e-mail address of PCI is firstname.lastname@example.org.
WBFI has forced many state groups to register multiple societies with their respective Registrar of Societies using the same bye laws and article of association documents. To the best of my knowledge, that is not a good governance practice.
No information is sought from the Ministry. Hence, no comments.
What is the reason for the lack of strong governmental oversight into a delicate sporting ecosystem that is combining a critical need for good sport governance and strict enforcement of disability rights in India?
The How(s) and What(s) that are important for us to consider:
According to MYAS, WBFI is not a National Sport Federation.
WBFI’s provisional affiliation to PCI has not been reviewed until today. Between April 2015 and May 31, 2016, PCI was banned by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). During this time, WBFI has received recognition from IWBF (June 20, 2015).
Less than an year after WBFI came into existence, IWBF gave WBFI a non-voting member status. In my understanding, this recognition was a huge boost that WBFI received to self declare themselves as a national body.
Meanwhile, since their inception, WBFI has received unstinted support from the New Delhi division of the International Committee of Red Cross. More evidence here. However, it is interesting to note that the Delhi office of ICRC stayed mute on many questions I raised about WBFI’s lack of transparency and why ICRC continues its support to them (as a major event sponsor often supporting the organization of many of their events). Since 2014, there has not been a single major event that WBFI has conducted, for which ICRC has not been an event partner.
To this date (best of my knowledge), about 2-3 state level registered societies have completed the affiliation process with WBFI. Interestingly, no one has ever been provided a copy of WBFI’s original bylaws or memorandum of association. Affiliate members have signed certification documents with WBFI declaring that they will abide by the bylaws and internal regulations of WBFI. When I ask these associations if they have viewed the original documents, there is a sign of shock on their faces (And that is when they speak up and say, “Ma’m, if we are not doing this, there is a pressure from Kalyani ma’m that we can’t participate in the nationals or send players from our state to some or the other international event they want to send India team to. That is why we just submitted the draft they send for our state association registration with the Registrar in our city). I have received scores of copies of emails where Ms. Rajaraman insists people to just use the draft and to not worry about anything beyond that. Reviewing these documents carefully, it is evident that selective information is shared with these potential state associations. Some examples (blue = stakeholder; red: Ms. Rajaraman):
Are we required to have a constitutional process in place to register the state level federation?
Ans. We will provide format of byelaws.
In which form should the state federation be registered? A trust, society, foundation or association?
Ans. Under Societies Act.
As per your bye laws, as an interested party to set up a state federation, can I request access to your constitution?
Ans. We will provide the format. So u need not worry.
For instance, there are some state associations that have been denied affiliation for over two years now with no reasons being stated. Coincidentally, these are also the groups that communicate with WBFI using a rights based approach and protest the undignified provision of amenities during events organized by WBFI.
For anyone knowing the WCBB news out of India, a common presence is the mention of a trust by the name Yes We Too Can Charitable Trust. As of today, I have been unable to trace the functioning or financial reports of this trust. But an interesting fact is that this trust is a family own/run trust of Ms. Madhavi Latha. In WBFI’s audit and annual reports there is a sporadic mention of this trust in the context of awards and other financial incentives that are often given to players. I particularly mention this trust because: In January 2016, when I went to Chennai to meet WBFI’s EC, I also met another individual who has previously worked at IPC’s Bonn Headquarters who was present at the meeting (someone who played the role of IPC’s observer in India for sometime). This individual had then tried to pitch to WBFI a great model of sport management which WBFI’s board was not comfortable with. In subsequent conversations with him spanning several months, he told me that financial management of WBFI was ‘tricky’. So far, I have not been able to secure copies of receipts that have been provided to a few people during WBFI events when the receipts were given from the Trust’s name but not WBFI’s.
If one reviews WBFI’s MoA, it is shocking to read two main objects listed in it:
WBFI shall be the sole competent authority for men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball in India.
To control and maintain the classification of players and issuance of player identity cards and player classification cards and regulate the transfer of players from one state to another.
When applying to register as a state level society, how was WBFI allowed to include such objects that enabled them to build the possibility of a national character/presence around their association?
If one reviews the Statutes of IWBF, you won’t be surprised to see the origin of these sentences in WBFI’s MoA. It is important to ask though:
One can also refer to the NSDC, 2011 and note that:
Recognition of a federation shall not be a matter of right and shall be purely at the discretion of the Govt. of India who may grant recognition subject to such terms and conditions as it deems fit (5.1).
When WBFI was registered in 2014, it did not have the recognition from IWBF. IWBF’s membership became possible when India’s NPC was banned from the IPC.
According to WBFI’s ByLaws, the term of office for WBFI’s office bearers is three years. WBFI has never had any elections so far.
The membership of WBFI (largely PwDs) until today are not aware of any voting rights or individual status as members within the organization. Since the ByLaws were never made publicly available, people were not aware of their rights.
Even the participants at the national symposium were not provided with transparent details about the organization. Individuals who asked access to WBFI’s ByLaws were informed that they needed no access to it and the draft bylaws being shared with them were all that states needed. This open enforcement of limited access to information is surprising.
Last week, I contacted an Indian who resides in the United States while tracing any identified donors who made monetary contributions for WCBB in India. In a private Facebook chat he told me that he had made about $500 in donation to WBFI sometime last year over an online transfer. My eyes popped out of the sockets! WBFI has no clearance for accepting foreign contributions (FCRA Compliance). When I asked him if he knew where he sent the money and if he has a receipt for the same, he got curt with me. I closed the conversation saying that he should request for a receipt in the future.
Most Indians within the WCBB ecosystem never asked WBFI for receipts for the financial transactions/contributions that were made! I am myself guilty of adding to this situation for not having asked receipts when I previously made a contribution!
WHY IS ALL THIS IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER:
At the center of all disability sport movements in the world are disability rights of the humans involved in these movements. Surrounding these disability rights are the complex web of systems that include administration, accessibility and role of foreign funding for development of the sport.
In India, National federations for team and individual disability sports function successfully only while enjoying unrestricted support from bureaucracy (most of the times questionable for lack of ethical standards in the processes followed). For many stakeholders in the Indian WCBB movement, communications out of Delhi have sky rocketed since 2017.
Rarely do the functioning of these organizations comply with the National Sport Development Code of India, 2011 (one exception here is Special Olympics Bharat (SoB). They are arguably the only best disability sport national federation in India as of today. However, if you really look deep into SoB’s functioning, many state and district level programs are severely deficient and lack compliance with the national code).
As India’s largest community of citizens who have historically been denied equal rights, PwDs in India immensely value every opportunity that allows for their participation in disability sport events. However, it is important for us to remember that now is the time for India to move beyond the charity model of disability. We must as a country at all levels of the society, embrace the humans rights model of disability. The most simple explanation I can provide for my position on this perspective of rights is that : In December 2016, India passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Bill 2016 that was solely based on the United Nations Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). As a country, we accepted a major disability rights law. But in interacting with many Indian citizens, it is evident that a minuscule percentage of them are aware about a rights based approach. For many citizens, supporting organizations like WBFI is a major way to serve. Rarely do they feel concerned to ask for accountability and transparency (for example, asking receipts for financial and other contributions made, asking how the leadership is growing in terms of collaborations and partnerships, why do a certain people have the control of an entire ecosystem etc).
There is a common assumption that all the money donated for disability related causes will be used for good purposes.
Despite facing complex diversity related challenges, India boasts of a competent community of disability rights advocates and leaders who have for several years worked to improve the conditions surrounding the rights of PwDs. But if you look deep into the existing system of DSOs in India and the enforcement surrounding these organizations, it is evident that the rights based model of disability is a common missing framework. Additionally, the governance and administration in these DSOs is devoid of active involvement from the disability rights leaders who have been able to positively influence some changes in other spheres of public life while advancing disability rights. The major resistance I faced (in the form of cynicism towards my critical analysis of the WCBB scene in India) is an indicator of how the most important aspect of the discussion is pushed under the rug:
Do we have robust government enforced systems to manage sports (both able bodied and disability) in India?
If an organization is serving the community of PwDs in India, should they not be held accountable to the highest standards of sport governance?
To conclude this, I will list some of the sentences I have recorded from my own conversations with Indians who have been in the WCBB ecosystem
Padmini, did you see that WBFI’s website only has a long list of foreign coaches listed as WBFI’s Basketball Coaches?
Look at PCI Padmini! They are only a joke! What compliance you are talking about?! – (Ms. Madhavi Latha to me in 2016 when I asked about PCI’s role in overseeing WBFI’s functioning).
I don’t like being told what I should do at the State-level by someone who doesn’t even live or see the reality on ground here! And I am not ignorant of the National Code!
We are appalled at their arrogance in denying us access to their organization’s internal regulations! How can we legally associate with them unless we know who they are registered as legally?
How can IWBF just decide that they are India’s best? In 4 years, there were more than two occasions when IWBF received emails about how poorly WBFI is running the federation here.
Kalyani ma’m is very powerful. The way she will shut you up for asking questions about federation is very cheap. I don’t want to be treated like that just because I am disabled ma’m. Why should I take such a tone? My own parents don’t talk to me like that.
We are under constant pressure to register a society Padmini! But I am telling you, running a society is not a joke! It is so much work. And needs lot of resources which we don’t have here!
Today, one Google Search about wheelchair basketball in India returns impressive results of inspirational articles. But like there are two sides of a coin, most of this inspiration porn you see is the major reason for the Paralympic crisis that looms over India’s potentially bright future (if it is not destroyed by yet another ban/derecognition). We need to take charge of the situation as a country and own responsibility for the lack of public will to look at disability rights and sport rights as human rights first.
Supporting any activities connected to disability rights should not be an act of charity. It should be an act of public responsibility.
Disability rights and sporting rights are human rights.
What exists in sport theory/government policy is useless if it is not transferred into actionable items for sport management in India.
If until now Indian sport federations have been run as highly political bodies where power rests with a select few, it is no longer okay to look the other way and say, “It is like this only in India!”
This article is the result of many failed attempts of requesting main stream journalists to look into this situation and raise awareness through their reporting. The data I have gathered over the last two years is exhaustive. I have never conducted an inquiry of this nature before. Processing all this information alone was a herculean task for me. If there is any aspect of this article that needs further clarification please feel free to contact me.
Note: I made WBFI aware of my intentions of looking into their administrative practices months ago through an email. I never received any acknowledgement nor opposition for openly questioning their functioning. And after my email when I saw a surge in the way they began spreading their presence in India (while holding back key information from PwDs), I felt forced to organize my work towards producing this article.
I hope this article can lead to better systems being implemented for legislative oversight into how DSOs are functioning in India. And to the members of international community who have in the past interacted with me when I approached you for help/advise to create solutions for the WCBB problems in India:
Please understand that your presence is so much needed in countries like ours. But please refrain from enabling individuals who seem to function/run organizations in grey areas of human rights provision. As international experts and administrators, your role is critical in shaping how local organizations and power players gain full control of communities where PwDs are beginning to experience the beauty of disability sport and how empowering it is. If the focus is promoting the sport, it can still happen without enabling the politics.
(a) Paralympic Committee of India with copies marked to:
(b) Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India
(c) ICRC Representative who regularly works within the Wheelchair Basketball ecosystem in India
(d) Sports Secretary’s Office, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports
The Paralympic Committee of India,
New Delhi/ Bangalore, India
CC: WBFI, Angel Singha, ICRC, New Delhi, Sport Secretary, Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (New Delhi).
I request PCI and ICRC to refer to all the previous communications that I have initiated with them.
As a disability sport professional from India, over the last few years, I have strongly encouraged over forty Indians to engage with WBFI. So I take this responsibility of also explaining that WBFI’s governance and administration confuses me. If this is my position as a researcher, imagine the plight of disenfranchised citizens like persons with disabilities.
While trying to research Adapted Physical Activity and related organizations in India, I am disappointed to see so much absence of information to its ‘members’ [WBFI’s website does not provide any information on the organization’s (a) Bye laws; (b) Annual Reports; (c) Partnership agreements; and (d) Role of sponsors. This information is to be made publicly available for newcomers in the sport to get an understanding a new ecosystem (i.e., Wheelchair Basketball as an organized and competitive sport is very ‘new’ to the Indian citizenry)].
In my attempts to understand how WBFI functions in India, I have communicated with ICRC. ICRC in their response to me has failed to recognise WBFI as a direct partner (I have failed to see WBFI mentioned in any of ICRC’s Annual Reports). In my communication with PCI, I have been told that WBFI has been affiliated to PCI for around five years. From PCI I have not received a date from when WBFI has been affiliated to PCI.
As a researcher connecting the dots, I have identified that WBFI is not directly answerable to any of the organizations in India. (WBFI’s membership with PCI is as an independent sport federation). While I have email communications from my records that clearly indicate ICRC to be a constant event support partner for WBFI (at least from 2015), I am unable to find any official documentation ascertaining the same.
I have also met and communicated with many Indians who have been clueless about their membership status with WBFI despite several follow up attempts. While lack of clarity is the tip of the ice berg, I am putting together all my findings in a technical report to MYAS. Meanwhile, I am requesting for all involved parties (especially PCI, WBFI, ICRC) to make an attempt to streamline WBFI’s processes, explain their financial transactions (for maintaining transparency) and to focus on developing a long-term strategic plan for developing sport in the country. This will ultimately help advance the good work of so many coaches and athletes because of whom WBFI is possible today.
Looking forward to some clarity on this topic in the future,
Copies of this email were also sent to over forty Indians who have been directly/indirectly working with WBFI. Many of them being disability rights activists in India.
Error: I have misspelt Ms. Angel Singha’s last name as Singhal. Apologies for the same.
This list of quotes will be a work-in-progress from all conversations I share with Indians who have disabilities and are attempting to seek full participation in organized AdaptedSportsIndia programs within the country.
There is so much confusion about everything and such lack of consistency that at times we don’t even know what is going to happen next!
Your wheelchairs are not good for competition, why wouldn’t your federation work on good equipment before putting you out here? [At an international tournament]
Get RGK chairs, they are best. Oh! They are expensive. Yeah! If you want to play, you have to figure it out.
Motivation UK wheelchairs that we get here in India are very bad. I have travelled outside India, I have tried the chairs that my friends from other countries use. The stuff that Motivation UK sells in India is very low quality madam. But we have no other option. Other wise there is China maal (Hindi for stuff).
Padmini! I will not repeat the same story you just heard from all these players. I will use one sentence. There is no sustainable thought leadership
Athletes spend their own money and then suddenly as soon as the events are over, there is a vaccum in what needs to be done next. They love playing the game but have no understanding of the ecosystem.
She was an early bird! And unfortunately in the present ecosystem that is in place in India, the early bird doesn’t just get the worm, it gets every worm after the first one because we [Indians] are good at blocking the line and not let anyone else in after us. That is our style of functioning and leadership. We stay in the front of the line and pass down the left-overs of what we consume. That is what is exactly happening with WBFI.
Local host as a concept has high importance and WBFI doesn’t value it at all. I don’t think they have an understanding of the concept.
Wheelchair basketball ke matches ko ‘event management’ ki tarah handle kartein hain, sports management ka toh madam aap naam math lo please, hasee aathi hai (Wheelchair basketball matches are handled under an ‘event management’ concept. Don’t take the name of sport management. I am going to burst out laughing.
After four years, we still don’t have even five good classifiers in India. We are periodically dependent on the foreign coaches who come into India every now and then to classify us correctly.
Bas humko door se dekhe ek number dedethen hain (They see us from far and give us a random number)
I got one number assigned here in India and when I went abroad, I was thrown into a different class. It was very upsetting because I was like wow! I’ve been playing in the wrong class. So is my learning about classification wrong? As an athlete I read the IWBF rule book and understood classification. So it drives us mad ma’m. But we will not talk about it because it will put us in trouble if we come back and ask any questions to Madhavi or Kalyani ma’m. They are very dismissive and often times change the topic when we ask for any clarifications.
Why can’t local professionals be involved? Why are people flown in from certain specific areas of the country? Why hasn’t there been efforts to prepare local professionals so that players can continue to have access locally? Madam, aap bathao, aap Telugu speaking ho, aapko jaake Orissa mein coaching karo boletho kya aap acche context ke saath coaching kar paayengi? [Madam, you tell me, you speak Telugu, if someone asks you to go coach in Orissa, will you have an understanding of the context to coach?] Aap mazaak mein haan keh saktein hain lekin wahan jaake paseena niklega aapko to even get the people together [You may funnily say yeah I canbut if you go there in reality and attempt to, you will begin to sweat it out to bring it all together]. Reality of including language diversity as a concept ma’m! I have studied in my PG. So humne bhi thoda seekha hai! [So I also have studied something!].
If coaches don’t understand classification, it is a very bad situation you see!
The 14-point rule is so important and I will bet with you, half the players right now are clueless of its significance and why IWBF mandates a 14-point team
WBFI fails to use the existing bank of resources at district and state levels. They want everything ‘new’ every single time. There is no renewed contacts and continued connections in how they work.
Madhavi and Kalyani are not cognizant of what the ground reality of wheelchair accessibility in India is like. Or they probably know and like many others working in the field express their voluntary ignorance to the topic. So much is being done by us, can’t you step up your efforts a little bit more is a common tone we hear Padmini!
There is nothing like a long-term development plan from WBFI. In January 2018, you won’t know what will happen in February or June 2018. Short-term and long-term plans are all done a few weeks ahead of the actual event. Then we are expected to just fall in line or we won’t have future opportunities is a common response.
At the ******* event, there were some youngsters I know who sat in competitive wheelchairs for the very first time in their lives. And then they went home into being lost in the millions. There is nothing for them to come back to until there is another round of aggressive recruitment happening and they are shown the incentive to ‘qualify’ for international events.
They [leadership at WBFI] are reluctant to learn because they consider themselves the best in the field Padmini. It doesn’t matter if I am willing to volunteer my time and teach them.
WBFI doesn’t care about grass-roots development didi (Hindi for sister)! Unko bas unke events acchese hona hai aur Madhavi ma’m ko unka target miss nahi karna hai! [They only want their events to happen successfully and Madhavi ma’m wants to meet her targets] It doesn’t matter if that is achieved by putting pressure on us!
If there is no strong teacher, there are no strong students ma’m!
Before sending out the email forcing us to conduct a workshop, did they even ask us what the local challenges and needs are? Do they even know if we have wheelchairs?
Oh yeah! we have state associations but we have no clue what we are doing.
[I asked, “Why would you register a state-level organization without even knowing what you should do?”]
I either registered the organization they asked me to, or I wouldn’t have had a chance to participate in the events during 2016. We also were asked to give an undertaking with signatures stating that we will form a state association as a registered body.
I have to work from home and manage figuring out this mess that WBFI has created. If I choose to take a job in an office setting, the transport is going to cost me so much that I should stop paying for my rehabilitation services. I can choose either transport or post-operative rehab. This is my reality and every time I approach Madhavi ma’m’s organization saying we cannot take this pressure they say you have to if you want affiliation from us.
Haha! [their] favourite line is “Don’t give excuses. If there is a will there is a way”
I don’t think they have made up their mind about affiliations for state associations. And I am sure they won’t give any too! They are just making us do free work at state level so they can continue to keep international affiliation.
They know people in our state that they work with. Be it for wheelchairs or facilities/stadium and transport. But they will not give any of those leads to us. There is this ‘you do everything’ yourself and learn attitude. And ma’m every time I get such a response I feel like leaving wheelchair basketball forever because that feels like they don’t know or don’t want to know the reality we deal with on a daily basis. Anywhere we go in our city they say come through Madhavi. It is like a one gate entry only and the key for it is with Madhavi ma’m
They [WBFI leadership] is very close to this corporate body in our state. So suddenly there has been pressure to put down our efforts. Sometimes I wonder as a woman who passed only 7th class I am able to wonder how funds are coming to these people, how come such a big corporation is giving money in a non-stop manner?
Her husband is a very influential person. You will be in trouble if you say things against her. No one will believe your words. Hearing these words I felt how is this field different from anywhere else where we are bullied as women with disabilities. Irony is here we are being spoken to like this by women only!
There are often times questions on classification procedures from athletes as we see different processes followed at each event. Sometimes, coaches and WBFI leadership just decides our classification while seeing us roll around in our chairs or while playing. So we wait for these foreign people to show up for camps and training. We learn so much just seeing them coach or instruct!
I have agreed to do the summer camp as I don’t have another choice. I refuse this, I am out of their communications very soon. The results of defying them are so instant that you wouldn’t even realize which direction you got hit from ma’m! Suddenly you will feel like an outcast in the way they treat you.
To be able to participate in the 2016 National Camp, we had to provide an undertaking that we will form a state association. Otherwise we were told we wouldn’t be allowed to participate. So we just quickly formed an association.
Being women themselves, at times I want to ask them how they can behave with us like this.
People are afraid to speak up!
I have attended many highly important meetings with WBFI’s President. She is often times disinterested in any meetings and discussions related to disability rights advocacy. She is clear in saying everyone should help wheelchair athletes. But let me ask you this, with the basic problems we face in India, what would you prefer ? Sport to help advance the rights advocacy or for sports to burden the system even more?
We don’t have leadership training ma’m!
Wheelchair quality is really poor!
There is so much to learn ma’m but we can’t keep following such drastic shifts in focus all the time. No plan nothing. Randomly events begin to be announced and we are expected to participate whether it makes sense to us or not.
Attenders are strictly not allowed Padmini. I am telling you, the place where they put us up in the recent training was so bad that I couldn’t even open my mouth to brush my teeth in that bathroom. We opened the taps and the water had dead insects coming out of it. Accessibility tho bhool jao! (Forget accessibility!)
The work ethic of Brad and Thomas was impeccable. Unquestionably the best people we could have met to get a hang of the reality surrounding us with regards to fitness or game strategies. But I felt they were very much grounded in reality that our grass-root level issues are way huge than they appear to be. So they were like, “Yeah, we understand but we can only do this. So we coach and go. You all have to figure it out.”
We don’t have a structure for the sport
We did not put a structure in place and I wonder why wouldn’t someone do it?
‘You need to look beyond the barriers’ is a common phrase we hear from WBFI. How ridiculous is that? I don’t know Padmini. If we are not eliminating barriers how is wheelchair basketball even helping empower us. I literally have educated myself from Google searches and isn’t sports a tool for improving conditions?
Player dropout rate is high among women than men. And it is not surprising because there is no clarity on what will happen next. Getting out of the house is huge for these women! And add uncertainty to it – it is adding an another barrier to their lives.
It was great to step out of the country and see where we stand internationally. It is embarrassing but also funny that consistently at both the international events, every foreigner I spoke with said, “You are at least 10-15 years behind in this sport.”
Are these findings sufficiently authentic . . . that I [and research participants] may trust myself in acting on their implications? More to the point, would I feel sufficiently secure about these findings to construct social policy or legislation based on them? – (Guba & Lincoln, 2005, p. 205)
I found this quote in a scientific paper I was reading earlier this week. For about three years now, as an adapted physical activity (APA) professional from India living in the United States, I have faced a constant challenge of ‘missing out on the ground work happening’ in India. While the explosive growth of social media and its acceptance in India has helped me bridge some of the gaps, I must confess: being home each year to ‘immerse’ myself in the field has been an excellent teacher. Having unsuccessfully tried for years to spread the word among my contacts in electronic and print media to write about sports and physical activity (SPA) for persons with disabilities (PwD) in India (because to this day, newspapers and TV are still a major source for news in countries like mine), I constantly heard these responses,
No one pays for these stories to be reported about Padmini.
Editors want stories about PwD in India that are inspiring.
Able bodied sports in India itself is struggling, so it is understandable that para-athletes are neglected. I am not surprised [I will not blame the speaker entirely for saying this to me. But it is very common in India to hear responses like, “Regular sports only doesn’t have funds, how can we expect anything for disabled people’s sports?”].
One of my last attempts brought me across two friends who asked me,
“Why can’t you be the person to write about it?”
Me: “Am I eligible to write? I am not a journalist. I am not trained in the skill!”
To which they replied, “You have studied the Adapted Sports movement for quite sometime now, you have spoken to many stakeholders in the ecosystem, you have so much information and you know the globally accepted terminology to write about the topics. What other eligibility do you need to speak up?” [Quote is not verbatim. It is a gist of the lengthy conversation I shared with both of them].
Before I begin writing, here are a few rules I will stick to while reporting from the field of organised SPA for PwD in India.
My sources will continue to stay anonymous until they tell me I can publicise their names. At present most of them are trying to survive within a system where the fear of being ‘blacklisted’ for speaking up is rampant. Defamation cases, police complaints, unexplained blacklisting of participants are common occurrences within the field here.
Every story will have a list of direct questions that stakeholders intend to ask the administrators of their national sport federations. These are the questions they ask me and say, “Madam, first these leaders should answer these questions and then they can question our commitment to sports as people with disabilities!”
Every story will conclude with a ‘Possible Solutions/Future Directions’. This is primarily to highlight the common attitude of PwD and their supporters in India. In my experience of talking to hundreds of them over the years, I can confidently say they are not all complainers.
Many of them speak intelligently about creating sustainable solutions.
The content of this section is most of the times direct solutions that these citizens speak to me about. Now and then, I try to bring them together using my professional training as an APA professional.
These stories are ‘silent screams’ of many athletes, coaches, families supporting SPA for PwD in India. If you have concerns about what is being reported through these stories, write to me and educate me about why my findings from the field are not accurate. I and the people who requested me to share their stories want to learn more. We will learn more if we can find an educated way to communicate with one another.
Some technical rules I follow while putting these stories together:
I take detailed field notes when I am out interviewing people (either on call or in person).
I continue to ask the people I talk with if I can audio record them so that I can re-listen and report accurately. Many are afraid that I will share the recordings publicly at some point later to prove the story. So they politely express their unwillingness to be recorded. One in ten agrees to be recorded because they may have followed my work for a long time or simply say “We trust you Padmini.”
I don’t talk to people from just one geographical region when I am trying to understand a dysfunctional situation in the field of organised SPA for PwD in India. I source my information from at least three out of the five regions in India (Five regions I use: North, South, West, East and Central India). Statistically these numbers are insignificant. But as a qualitative researcher, I believe,
Every voice is significant!
When I make field visits in India to understand and study infrastructure (colloquially called facilities in India), I do not take photographs/videos of PwD at the locations. [Reason: Majority of PwD in India who are studying/living in govt-aided or non-profit institutions are disenfranchised to an extent where they don’t have the voices to say no when someone asks them for a photo/video consent on the spot during tours and audits (especially women). I have repeatedly heard this opinion from PwD in friendly conversations at a later point when they explain their dislike for being ‘documented’ without accountability [Once a person said to me, “Akka (sister) would you like some random person touring your college to take photos of you when you are doing your work and then walk away from there? You wouldn’t even know what they intend to do with your photo later! Then you will become someone’s fund raising poster! I hate it!” calmly returning back to their handicraft work at the vocational training center].
In countries like India, the group of people heading a particular national sporting federation is the ultimate power house for that sport. Over the years, these federations have carefully maintained certain mechanisms that need to be followed for athletes to grow up the chain. Organised SPA administrations serving PwD are not separate from these behaviours.
If these stories I write can someday push for a change in India’s sport governing policy for persons with disabilities, I will consider my work done. At a stage of career that I am in, with the kind of competition that is rampant in the world of sport education today, many well-wishers have advised me to either delegate this work to the established professionals or to wait it out until I find my slot in academia. Regardless of where my career prospects or financial benefits of reporting on this topic stand, persons with disabilities in India continue to be treated with very little respect and equity even today. Neglecting that reality cannot continue. While I have collected these stories and have spoken to hundreds of Indians in the last many years, I see it is important for these stories to be told now more than ever because: Two years after Rio2016 and two years to Tokyo2020, the reality of what India has in place for persons with disabilities is shockingly poor.
I met Bob Knipe at SHAPE America’s Speak Out day last year. That day I observed many American physical educators/professors walk and work for hours all across The Capitol seeking increased funding for physical education (PE) programs in America’s public schools. Bob Knipe was one of those hundreds. This post is the result of an interesting article that Bob shared today. I could have written to him a personal message. However I wanted physical educators and coaches working in American schools to read about my experience. As an Indian living in the United States, I see my cultural perspective is essential in the American physical education world. There are millions of Indians living in American communities and after five years, I am yet to meet a physical education teacher who is of Indian origin :| By the way if you know one, ask them to please get in touch with me.
Over the last several months while over coming a personal crisis, I found solace in sports. And you need to know how I learnt a physical literacy skill that I will continue to use for the rest of my life. I never had the opportunity to pursue sports as an every day activity after my high school [until I graduated high school I was athletic. Never competitive beyond the school level though. I played Kabaddi, Kho-Kho, ran track (100 meters) and participated in regular callisthenics routines during the school assembly each morning]. After graduating high school I entered a world of ‘nil’ physical activity. Competitive academic environments that were devoid of all physical activity was the norm back then (2000 – 2002). So I went along onto the same track with thousands of others like me. That is the kind of community access to sports and physical activity I come from in South India. Ironically, I was living in a very much ‘urban’ area. In contrast to the common perception that only rural areas in India lack access to sports and physical activity opportunities, I was very much living in a ‘city’. But I lived in what I’d like to call a UDS = ‘Urban Desert for Sport’ in India.
The typical characteristics of a UDS are as follows:
No public play grounds.
If there are public playgrounds, they are often ‘taken over’ for other activities (political, commercial etc).
If the above two challenges are dealt with, the public spaces are often times (majority times) not safe for girls/women to pursue organized sports and physical activity.
If the above three challenges are fixed, the spaces are unaffordable to an Indian who comes from middle class and further lower socio-economic statuses.
Over 95 percent of the time, recreation and entertainment options are sedentary options.
I don’t think UDS as a concept can be restricted to India. We have UDS areas all over the world. Yes, in countries that are struggling to ‘develop’ the density of these areas is way too high. As PE professionals we need to be watchful of who in our physical activity or physical education classrooms comes from a UDS. Who needs that extra push to take up sports. Who needs extra help to include their ‘culture’ in learning physical literacy skills.
Having spent about 8 years of time being ‘sedentary’ after high school, America happened to me. Like at full throttle. Highly marketed fitness apparel to well packaged fitness programs. However it could all have gone south to Florida very promptly if I wasn’t physically literate. My training as a physiotherapist helped me. I struggled with stress and other lifestyle challenges settling myself into the United States but the biggest blessing was being able to be free to explore and identify how I could get up and moving.
While in India during the 8 ‘sedentary’ years after high school, I did dabble in yoga and fitness programs taught by personal trainers. However none of them became life skills. For a little long after coming to the United States I did try ‘pilates’ too. But trust me nothing became a fitness habit.
What worked for me would surprise you! At 31 years of age, I started learning a sport that I enjoyed playing as a kid and I actually am making progress in my sport skills!
As a young child, my father taught us how to play both football and badminton. Football that is played with foot. I will not call it soccer. No way! :) Also remember that I was very active in school for fun. There wasn’t much glorifying of any sporting achievement. While it is viewed as lack of encouragement, today I see that it did help me. We did receive certificates and rolling shields. However most of them went back to be displayed in the school. Nothing was a giant take away trophy that could be displayed beyond school. So it never was focus. The medals!
As a child I was scared to learn football as I feared stepping on the ball while trying to dribble with my feet and falling. So regardless of my dad’s commitment to teach me the game, I never learnt it. I learnt badminton though. I learnt it well enough to play with my father (who played non-competitive badminton for many years at the bank where he worked). So it became our favourite weekend activity. It became our go-to activity on a boring weekday evening . It kept me moving. It made me sleep well. My father enjoyed making us run. What joyful memories of me and my brother running into each other during the rallies and falling down laughing! Looking back I realise that, it was his way to tire us both (we are twins) out at once so that he and my mom could get on with house hold chores. Thanks dad! smart strategy!
Years later, in September 2017 when I got to know of a new badminton club in Frisco, TX there was no doubt I was going to ask someone to teach me badminton again. Over the last six months, I have not become a professional badminton player. But through my crisis,
Badminton moved me.
No matter how bad the day was, no matter how meagre the possibilities seemed, I knew there was that court out there. There was someone to help me learn a new skill. And then like a true blessing my father was there standing next to me and playing rallies with me.
What I learnt as a kid. The joy of playing a sport with no competitive desire in my heart. To enjoy the sport for what it is.
This became my ‘moving forward’ mantra. It became the support system I crashingly fell into. I shamelessly sought solace in it. That is the beauty of sport skills you learn as a young kid. To enjoy the sport for what it is. To look forward to the joy you experience playing a sport.
I grew up learning to be competitive with myself. Sometimes it can become harmful because one becomes too critical of oneself. And competing with oneself can become lonely. However, learning to compete with how better I got from yesterday worked for me. I believe my father’s method of coaching us in badminton when we were young worked for me to learn life skills through badminton. In one of the darkest times of my life I found an opportunity to go back to the sport and I didn’t need a lot of effort to go back.
I know it happens everywhere in the world. But I think it is still a stronger practice in countries like India. I was born a left handed person but was over the years forced to only use my right hand dominantly. Not sure how exactly changing my handedness influenced my dexterity challenges [Silently swearing and screaming it did!]. I am notorious in my family for confusing right and left. So over the years while not having gotten over that confusion, I have also struggled with crossing over on instruction or demand while performing certain physical activity skills. Haha! lo and behold! Badminton mysteriously ‘fixed it’ :)
For all my non-physical education readers, crossing over for example is our ability to cross the right hand over the body’s midline to touch the left foot’s big toe. And six months back that was a very complicated task for me. I have a friend called Heather who teaches Zumba classes at TWU as a witness for my challenge. Heather! I finally learnt to cross over successfully because of my badminton drills.
For my American friends who teach physical education in America’s public schools. Here are a few words of requests I have for you as a woman of foreign origin:
Please pay attention to the cultural diversity of your classrooms. This piece from Huffington Post is a great resource to understand how diverse classrooms may get.
If a student in your Phys Ed class is from a diverse cultural background and wants to avoid a group class or specific activity, try to find a healthy way to find the reason for their reluctance.
If there are kids from diverse cultural backgrounds in your classes joining the school later in the school years ask what games they know from back home. You will be blown away by how many games need almost no specialised equipment.
Growing cultural diversity in American public school systems should get onto the future strategic planning agenda of organizations like SHAPE America.
Growing cultural diversity in the public schools of United States is a boon. And like I had a story, we all come with our stories and often times, these stories can help transform the quality of our programs.
Why was it important to mention Bob?
Over the years I have met many physical educators here in the United States. But I only met a few Bob Knipe(s). They are a very small number. They are your neighbours who wake up each morning with a strong desire to educate your children with life skills. Skills that will shape and if necessary chisel their bodies and minds. Skills that will teach them structure and discipline. And more importantly skills that will empower them as individuals to enjoy their every day life with a good health status. Over the last one year since I met Bob at The Capitol, I have observed his social media shares. I have learnt from a lot of them. Bob is one of the many American PE teachers from who I learn everyday. But also know that they work with very low salaries and almost no funding for their school programs at times. But you will never see them make an excuse for no resources. If you reside in America, and your child goes to a public school here, please remember to engage in conversations with your child’s Coach Bob and ask them how you can help them. Thank you to your and thousands of your colleagues Bob. Like I have learnt from Americans to say, “I am richer in your friendship.”
Yet another American joins my list of #BeautifulAmericans