Here’s Why Milkha Singh Is Backing the Country’s First Wheelchair Basketball Team

Madhavi Latha, founder of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India talks to The Better India about using team sports to build the self-esteem of people with disabilities. 

The Indian contingent at the Rio Paralympics in 2016 fetched the country two gold medals, one silver and one bronze. However, team sports remained fairly unrepresented from the Indian side. But, for the past two years, an organisation called the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) has been working tirelessly to ensure that people with disabilities are also able to participate in team sports at international events.

Madhavi Latha, a national-level para swimmer and wheelchair basketball player, founded WBFI in 2011. She says, “I founded a Trust that catered to the needs of disabled children; it was called ‘Yes We Too Can Do.’ One summer, we organised a summer camp for children with disabilities, where we invited coaches from abroad to teach children wheelchair basketball. And the response was amazing – like other young people these kids are extremely energetic and dynamic but haven’t had an outlet to channel these feelings. It improved their confidence, fitness levels, and encouraged team building, so we thought we’d establish a wheelchair basketball federation at the national level.”

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) soon approached WBFI with a partnership opportunity.

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ICRC brought on board experts in the wheelchair basketball field from across the world. Together, they organised a camp to train coaches and referees, since the sport is still in a nascent stage in India. In 2014, they organised a national camp in Chennai with six teams and, in 2015, they conducted a National Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Delhi, in which nine teams participated.

Their national-level initiatives to promote a team sport for disabled people in India created ripples of excitement in international sports circles.

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Soon enough, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation recognised WBFI as an authorised body to promote wheelchair basketball in India. With this association, they were able to greatly improve the scope of their operations and managed to train 400 people with disabilities in wheelchair basketball by organising camps in various cities across the country.

Currently, WBFI is training over 20 young men to be a part of the team that will represent India in the Men’s Under 23 Wheelchair Basketball World Championship to be held in Canada in June 2017.

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But before they get there, they need to make it through the qualifying tournament in Bangkok in January.

WBFI is looking for sponsors and is backed the legendary runner Milkha Singh. They’ve requested Rs. 15 lakh from donors on the crowd funding platform fueladream.com, for participation fees, flight tickets, equipment, etc. Madhavi says, ““We actually need high performance sports wheelchairs that players from other countries use, but these cost around Rs. 3 lakh each. If we can’t get them, we want to send our team there with the basic models.”

The team of 20 spirited players is being trained by a Lebanese coach named Toufic Allouch, who is working pro bono. Antony Pereira, a veteran of the Indo-Pak war of 1974, is the head coach of the team. Many of the team players, who come from different parts of the country, also belong to underprivileged families.

At the end of the camp, around 12 players will be selected and they, along with their coach, will travel to Thailand to represent India. In order to help them achieve their target goal for funds, you can donate here.

To know more WBFI’s work, do visit their website.

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