In India, over 5.5M people live with disabilities related to mobility, yet most hotels, vehicles, and toilets are inaccessible to those who use a wheelchair. In 2014, a group of people founded the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India with a mission to promote the sport and empower the physically-challenged. Since then, the sport has changed countless lives.
Today, 15 women are on the basketball team. The team has been training for the Asian Para Games qualifiers, which will be held this March in Thailand. Their seven-hour-long practices include difficult speed, agility, and strengthening exercises. In one exercise, the women race in fours with one player pulling three others. However, all of their training was almost for nothing due to a lack of funding.
“There needs to be greater awareness about sports for the disabled, because the lack of awareness deeply impacts funding,” said Latha.
The federation was struggling to raise 450,000 rupees (equivalent to around $7,000 USD) to buy plane tickets to Thailand, but after an article was published on The Quint to raise awareness about the sport and its need for financial assistance, enough money was raised so the men and women’s teams will be able to participate at the Asian Para Games Qualifiers!
“We are so happy to receive the funding. We wanted to concentrate on practice for the Qualifiers and now we are relieved,” said Latha.
This is the first time an Indian women’s basketball team will compete in an international para-tournament, and these women deserve the recognition. They have experienced more hardship and struggle than one can imagine because of their physical impairments in a country where women already face adversity. Now that they have an outlet, these women have proved to themselves and their communities that they have value.
“Usually, differently-abled women are not even allowed to step out of their houses. When we play sports like these, we are inspiring several more to come and join us,” said one of the players.
The sport has helped so many women strengthen their bodies and minds and most no longer rely on physiotherapists or dietitians.
“They have become heroes in their neighborhoods. The media hounds them for interviews and locals have been inviting them to deliver motivational speeches. Some are getting jobs after corporates have watched them play. It has changed their lives entirely,” said Latha.
If the team makes it to the finals of the Asian Para Games, they have the chance compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games. Everyone around the world is rooting for this team and we can’t wait to see how they play in the qualifiers next month.
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