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.