In a first, the Indian Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team will represent the country at the Asian Para Games qualifiers. The games are scheduled in Bangkok for the first week of March.

Defying all odds, these women are preparing to grab everyone’s attention and stealing the show with their sheer confidence, grace and strength. This is for the first time ever they are eyeing for an international Paralympic competition. If they fare well then later in the year they will get another big chance to participate in the Asian finals in October.

If all goes well, the women will then finally compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games (2020).

Notably, the men’s and women’s teams won bronze medals in the Bali Internationals in 2017, but it wasn’t a Paralympic event.

Wheelchair basketball is considered as a fresh sport in India.  Though the sport is a popular one among disabled veterans in the armed forces, the official Indian Wheelchair Basketball Federation was formed just three years ago.

Challenges

The 12-member team encountered lack of basic infrastructure and got minimal opportunities to prove its worth. Also, they face problems with wheelchairs to compete at international levels. The team has been provided with non-high-performance wheelchairs which is separating them from other teams. They are offered bad quality chairs due to lack of manufacturers of sports wheelchairs in the country.

Other than this accommodation, transportation and access to restrooms constantly take toll on the players during travelling for trials or camps. Most of the airports in the country are not disabled-friendly, so catching flights are also difficult. Also, airlines only accommodate 4-5 wheelchair users per flight, forcing the team to take multiple flights.

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Despite having numerous problems, the team has persisted and stood strong to achieve the feat.

President of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India, Madhavi Latha, is herself wheelchair-bound due to spinal compression. She told The Firstpost, “There is a lot of ignorance across all levels. Among disabled people, their parents and general public. Even I did not know much about disability before my own health issues. If people come to know about this, they might come forward to help. Even if they know, they might think that other issues, like the eradication of poverty, employment, health, education are higher on the agenda than sports”.

She also added that she is working effortlessly to take this team to international levels. “I have been trying to convince them that sport is part of education and health, and through this they can get employment opportunities as well. Things that can take years to learn in a classroom environment can be understood in a week using sport,” she claimed.

Funding

Team India consisted of diverse people from different states in India and majority are from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. According to Latha, the lack of awareness has been affecting the team deeply funding-wise.

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