Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
Lights are switched on, basketballs are passed out from a store room, wheels, one after the other, are rolled out and attached to chairs before they are pushed onto the court – like a drill.
A bunch of men and women players adjust their wheelchairs, discuss game techniques, while also talking about politics, fights at home, the tantrums their kids throw and scholarship options. The coach calls out, and they head to the court, ready to play.
While queues in stadiums spillover to the roads during a Chennai Super Kings match or an Indian Super League tournament, no one really lines up for this basketball team of women and men who are making India proud – one dribble and wheeling at a time.
Presenting the Indian Wheelchair Basketball Team
Winners, With No One Cheering Them On
These headlines were splashed across newspapers and TV news channels after the Rio Paralympic Championship 2016.
‘With four medals, Indian athletes secure best ever haul for country’
‘India’s Thangavelu wins gold, Bhati bronze in high jump’
‘India’s Paralympians Are Winning More Medals Than Their Olympic Colleagues’
It was expected that the impressive number of medals and accolades would bring these sports at par with the popularity of cricket and football. Unfortunately, not much has changed.
But these enthusiastic players haven’t let anything dampen their spirits.
In 2014, a group of people founded the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India under Madhavi Latha, a paralympic swimming champion. All members had the same goal – to put India on the map of competitive sport.
Madhavi is a true fighter. When she was 37, she was told her days were numbered. But she battled negativity, resorted to hydro therapy and before you know it, she was scoring medals with her strokes.
Slam Dunking Medals and Trophies
The Wheelchair Federation of India sent their first men’s and women’s teams to compete at the 4th Bali Cup International Tournament in 2017. The players bagged a historic bronze – to become the first differently-abled Indian team to win in an international arena.
The Federation is affiliated to the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation and the Paralympic Committee of India. They have requested for an affiliation with the Sports Authority of India, for which the approval is still pending.
The sport might not have many spectators, but a number of aspiring players are queuing up to join. Since 2014, National Championships have been taking place every year, with 2017 seeing as many as 14 men’s and seven women’s teams.
The lack of funds has always been a major deterrent. But thanks to well-wishers, their dreams have always found the fuel to race forward.
From Humble Homes to Reaching for the Stars
Parthasarathy, 20, is a delight to play with. He is constantly cracking jokes, pulling someone’s leg and checking everyone’s wheelchairs to see if they need assistance. He has been a basketball player for as long as he can remember. When he met with an accident, he was told his career as a sportsperson was over. But he shrugged it off with his motto: “Once a basketball player, always a basketball player”.
He just replaced his sports shoes with a wheelchair and got back on the court.
Since I began playing this sport, everyone began noticing me in the society. I got a seat at Sathyabama University via scholarship and I feel just like every other person.Parthasarathy, National Wheelchair Basketball Player
These players hail from humble economic backgrounds and speak different languages, but the love for the game unites them all. Some of the players say they did not play competitive sport before joining the team.
I have never played any game. And I didn’t know because no one told me that there were games for the differently-abled as well.Vinolya Violet, National Wheelchair Basketball Player
Madhavi, the president of the Federation, told The Quint that for many from small villages and towns, the simple act of playing the game as a team means breaking barriers and setting an example.
One of the girls came back from the tournament at Bali and told me that earlier all her relatives would pity her. But now, as she becomes the first person from her family to travel abroad, they are all jealous of her! Such is the difference.Madhavi Latha, President, Wheelchair Basketball Federation Of India
Goodbye Therapy, Hello Playtime!
For Marilakshmi, playing basketball has been the best therapy for the acute back aches that began to plague her after the birth of her child three years ago.
A few lay-ups and 3-pointers made her a happy and fit champion.
Usually, differently-abled women are not even allowed to step out of their houses. When we play sports like these, we are inspiring several more to come and join us.Marilakshmi, National Wheelchair Basketball Player
Coaches and referees say they have observed that most of these players are no longer reliant on physiotherapists or dieticians, and playing the sport has helped strengthen their body and mind.
Many players say their confidence has gotten a boost as people around them have started to look to them because of this. Some of them want to join in the fun.
They have become heroes in their neighbourhoods. The media hounds them for interviews and locals have been inviting them to deliver motivational speeches. Some are getting jobs after corporates have watched them play. It has changed their lives entirely.Madhavi Latha, President, Wheelchair Basketball Federation Of India
Adding Another First in India’s Kitty
The men’s and women’s teams are now all set to set another record for India. They have been invited to participate in the Asian Para Games Qualifiers. With the help of generous donations, the team has reigned in Australian coach Thomas Kyle to train the players.
But what is keeping these players from wheeling their way to Bangkok is the lack of funds for flight tickets.
Should we cut short India’s winning streak because this star team can’t afford the travel expenses?
The teams have requested the Sports Authority of India to provide them with flight tickets. They have also asked to be given a space for practice, disabled-friendly accommodation, certified coaches and referees, advanced wheelchairs and secure jobs – as their families continue to struggle for needs.
And as people of India, let us all for once look beyond the Virats and Dhonis of sports and be audience to these underappreciated players.
If you want to help the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India, here’s how you can:
Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India
Contact Details: email@example.com/ 98416 09601
Bank Account Details
State Bank of India
Mahalingapuram Branch, Chennai
Account Number: 34446445124
(If anyone wishes to contribute, please verify the credentials of the account holder with the contact number mentioned above. The Quint takes no responsibility regarding the transfer or subsequent use of the funds.)
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