Taking a strong view of the shocking incident of differently-abled sportspersons taking part in a national event being put up at unfurnished and unhygienic accommodations, Indian Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Sunday sought a report from the organisers and promised to take action within 24 hours.
Sonowal said he has asked for a detailed report from Paralympic Committee of India as well as from his secretary after athletes participating in the National Para-Athletics Championships (March 20-22) at Janhit Para Sports Grounds (Madhuban, Bapudham) at Ghaziabad were asked to stay at messy and unkempt rooms at a building. The championship was organised by Uttar Pradesh unit of the Paralympic Committee of India.
"Well-being of all athletes is a priority for us. Differently-abled athletes and their well-being is a priority for us. We are examining the matter and looking into the reasons for mismanagement of the event," Sonowal said.
"I have asked my sports secretary to take immediate action and submit a report within 24 hours and based on that I will take action. From our part, there is no discrimination between abled-bodied and differently-abled athletes.
"The national federations, whether of abled-bodied and differently-abled, have a duty and responsibility to look after the well-being of athletes. If they have any problem, they (the organisers) should have approached us. We are always there to help," he added.
The para athletes participating in the National Para-Athletics Championships were in for a rude shock after they were allotted unhygienic and difficult living conditions.
"We have not got proper food, eating poori and one vegetable dish for last four days. We walk with sticks and we have been put up at second floor. They don't even have ramps for wheelchair-bound athletes. Toilets are dirt, there are no fans, no water," said Yogesh, a participating athlete.
"I fell three times while taking bath today, we are drinking water from a tanker and it has not been cleaned and the toilets are filthy," added Vinay, another participant.
"The facilities were not good and because of that we had to face problems. But I would not like to put the blame on the federation only. The government will also have to take care of larger issues," said star para athlete Devendra Jhajharia, who won a gold each in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and 2013 IPC World Championships (Javelin F46).
PCI President Rajesh Tomar admitted that there was "goof-up" on the part of his officials but sought to lay the blame on the government which he said has not given any fund and refused to arrange for a proper venue to host the event.
"I had approached the ministry to provide their facility to host the event but Sports Authority of India refused saying that their venues are being used by abled-bodied athletes. I did not have a venue to host the event. So, I said yes when the Uttar Pradesh unit of the PCI offered to host the event," Tomar told PTI.
"Moreover, I did not get any money from the government to host the event. The problem is that the government has not cleared ACTC (Annual Calendar for Training and Competition) (ACTC) fund for PCI for last year (2014-15 which runs till March 31). So, the PCI does not have enough money," he said.
"The event was organised by the UP unit of the PCI with technical assistance from the Para Athletics Federation of India. I admit that that my officials have committed goof-up and there should have been proper facilities for the athletes.
We have constituted a panel to inquire into the issue and we will take action if need be," he added.
Para Athletics Federation of India president Rathan Singh also conceded that there were lack of proper facilities at the venue. He said the championship should have been cancelled if there were no proper facilities.
"Of course, we have to admit there were lapse on our part and this should not have happened. The organisers (UP unit of the PCI) had promised us that they would give the athletes good facilities. The event should have been cancelled if they (organisers) were to provide this kind of facilities to the athletes," he said.
"The running track at the venue was an excellent one and it was the first time that the championship was being held on synthetic tracks. But the problem was on the accommodation and other facilities," he added.
Later, the Sports Ministry issued a statement, saying that it may issue a comprehensive guideline stipulating minimum standards of boarding, lodging and other facilities to be made available to athletes participating in national championships so that such incidents do not repeat in future.
"The Ministry is shocked and deeply saddened at the gross apathy and negligence shown by organizers of the 15th National Para-Athletic championship being held at Ghaziabad from 20 to 22 March 2015 wherein the participating athletes have been deprived of even the minimum facilities expected at a national sports event," it said.
"The ministry is looking into the particular incident and, if required, will not hesitate in issuing a comprehensive advisory or guidelines stipulating minimum standards that need to be maintained in terms of boarding, lodging and other facilities to be made available to athletes participating in a national championships so that such incidents do not repeat in future," the release added.
The ministry said it was committed to inclusive sports development in the country and accords equal priority to both able-bodied and disabled-sport development in the country.
"The Government provides liberal assistance to all National Sports Federations, including the Indian Paralympics Committee in organising national camps for selection and preparation of national athletes for participation in major international events. The support provided includes modern infrastructure and coaching facilities, boarding and lodging, food supplements, sports science support, international exposure, etc.
"Organising national championships at regular intervals is a core function and responsibility of each and every NSF, and they are expected to conduct the event in a professional manner, maintaining at least the minimum standards expected of an event being held at the national level. The Government only supplements these efforts with some financial assistance, which is identical for all NSFs. The organizers are expected to mobilise support from different sources to meet the budget," it said.