Their limbs may restrict their mobility, but not their passion for basketball. And Monday was a day to rejoice for Goan Basketball enthusiasts, as the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) introduced the iconic sport in the state for the first time.
On Monday, Goa became the 19th state where the WBFI introduced the sport. Over 16 persons on wheelchair were trained in a two-day workshop held by the Federation at the indoor Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium in Bambolim.
While it was difficult at first to master where a player stumbled on the court, within no time they were all gliding across the court and showing their immense upper body strength. It was a sight to behold as many of these participants who had never sat in a specialised high-tech wheelchair or played the sport in the past, picked the nitty-gritties of the game in an hour.
There was a 10-minute match held between two teams on Tuesday evening –Team Green and Team Orange. Of the 16 participants who had attended the two-day workshop, 12 participated in the match.
Speaking to The Goan, Shawn Rodrigues, the coach of the Goa State basketball team, said, “We’ve got good and talented players here. Considering these are first-time basketball players, their skill is fantastic.”
According to The Times of India, Vishant Nagvekar, who was one of the participants in the workshop and an employee at the state’s tourism department, “If we get such opportunities, we can be as good as anyone else. There are hardly any opportunities for the disabled to even exercise in Goa and now we get to play this sport.”
“These coaches are good, they make wheelchair basketball look so simple!” he exclaimed, pointing at the likes of Lee Roy Simon and Capt Louis George, who have trained under the world’s best wheelchair basketball coaches, including one who has won an Olympic medal.
Another participant, Manguesh Kuttikar from Curca, who is also an international swimmer and archer, lauded the effort, saying, “It’s the first time we sat in the chair. We learned many rules and regulations of wheelchair basketball; how to operate the chair and handle the ball.”
But there were concerns too.
“What would we do when the two-day workshop is over? We don’t have access to these specialised wheelchairs, and there is no way we can afford to.”
Over 25 wheelchairs were imported to the stadium from London for the training. Each of which cost about Rs 35,000. The WBFI revealed how their understanding with the exporters helped them get the chairs at a heavily discounted price.
“If the government gives us wheelchairs with which to compete, we will definitely win medals for Goa,” another participant, Prakash Kundaikar from Taleigao, a gold medal winner in bodybuilding added.
WBFI now plans to form a 10-member team for the national championships. If any of the players show promising performances, it is likely that they may be selected to the national team for the Asian Championships in Thailand.
“The Sports Department has promised that they will provide all possible help to get these players up to a standard to compete with other national associations,” Coach Shawn Rodrigues told The Goan.
We hope these athletes get the continuous support of the government, the Sports Department and WBFI so they can continue to give it their best shot.
Watch a clip from the training camp here
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)