There was high drama at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Monday morning after the Indian contingent returning from 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey refused to leave the airport until they were received ‘properly’ by officials. The contingent, after landing at New Delhi at 4.30 am, was aggrieved to find nobody to welcome them. Hurt, the hearing-impaired athletes decided to remain at the airport. The contingent had come back with five medals, including a gold medal, the highest by an Indian contingent so far.
Ketan Shah, the team’s interpreter told National Herald that the decision to protest was taken by the athletes and not the officials. “Hurt at their achievements not getting due credit, the athletes decided to protest,” he told NH.
Claiming that the government was aware of the achievements of the Deaflympics contingents, Shah added, “we had intimated the government through an email of the achievements but got no reply. Neither the sports ministry nor Sports Authority of India (SAI) reached out to us. We were only demanding, or rather requesting, the hon’ble sports minister Vijay Goel ji to meet the contingent and bless them. We wanted to request him to grant some prizes, like the Government did for Paralympics medallists.”
With no one trying to reach out to them, Shah decided to call up a SAI official at 10 am to plead. “We called SAI at around 10 am and they informed us that they were coming to pick us up and that they had spoken to ‘sir’,” he said adding, “we don’t know who he was referring to as sir.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, normally quick to tweet congratulatory messages to different sports teams and players, had not done so till late on Monday afternoon. Nor had anyone from the Government or the Sports ministry got in touch with any of the medallists, including Virender Singh who won India its only gold at Samsun, Turkey. The gold medal in Turkey was also Singh’s fourth consecutive medal—three gold and one bronze—but the achievement didn’t turn out to be good enough to be appreciated by the government.
When the Indian Women’s cricket team recently returned after their runner-up finish to Women’s World Cup, 2017, PM Modi met the Indian girls who had made the nation proud and had posted individual pictures with the members of the team.
Sports Minister, Vijay Goel, had tweeted a congratulatory post to the wrestling medallists, including Virender Singh, but neither him nor anyone from his ministry deemed the achievements worthy enough of a welcome at the airport.
A project officer of SAI, Dilip Singh told NH, “I was there to pick them up. We had parked our car at 4:30 at the airport but the players wanted someone from the ministry to receive them.”
Talking about the further plans Shah said, “a meeting is scheduled with the Director General (DG) of SAI, Mr Injeti Srinivas and we will request him to grant the medallists some cash prizes which will not only keep them motivated but also motivate a new generation of talents to invest their future in the game. There are many talented deaf athletes but they stay away from the game due to financial reasons.”
Sports Ministry had rewarded the Paralympics medallists earlier. Thangavelu, who won the Gold medal in the men's high jump T-42 event, had gotten a cash reward of ₹75 lakh, while bronze medallist Bhati had received ₹30 lakh from the Sports Ministry of India.