Chennai: Wheelchair Basketball cries for attention

Chennai: With the Sixth ‘National Wheelchair Basketball Championship’ all set to take place this year between June 24 and June 29 at Mohali, Punjab, ‘wheelchair basketball’, unarguably one of the lesser known sports in the country, deserves its long-due recognition.

A paralympic sport, hugely popular amongst war veterans, it is promoted in India by the ‘Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India’ (WBFI), a registered society based in Chennai.

Conceived in 2014, with the noble mission of empowering physically-challenged persons through the sport, the federation sadly remains crippled by lack of funds, disabled-friendly basketball courts and awareness about its existence among public.

“We organise this tournament once a year as we want to give players an opportunity to play and perform at the national level. We want to give them the rightful recognition they deserve. However, it has been a struggle conducting this event with lack of funds and support. With most of the players coming from economically-challenged backgrounds, we have to provide for their travel, food and accommodation. We are in desperate need for help,” says P. Madhavi Latha, president, WBFI.

The sixth national wheelchair basketball championship will see the participation of a team from Tamil Nadu along with 23 men's team and 15 women's team from all over the nation.

Malathi Raja, a wheelchair basketball player from Chennai, says, “We have over 150 wheelchair basketball players in Tamil Nadu. Players from Coimbatore, Chennai, Tiruchy, Thiruvannamalai, Villupuram and Vellore come here (Chennai) every weekend for practice. We make arrangements for their stay with money from our own pockets.”  “We still don’t have indoor courts to practice,” she added.

Living in a nation that is not so disabled-friendly, finding indoor courts with facilities like ramps and disabled-friendly restrooms and rooms, is a huge challenge. But this is just one of the many hardships they face. Providing the players with basketball wheelchairs (wheelchairs with lower seats and wheels angled outwards for better stability), has been another struggle. These wheelchairs which cost around ` 40,000 are usually imported from the United Kingdom, as they are not manufactured in India.

Meanwhile, players from the Tamil Nadu team who have been practicing for the tournament at J.J stadium at Kilpauk here for the last eight weeks, continue to remain optimistic about the future of the sport and are confident about winning the nationals.

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