It's time to level the playing field

Yesterday, this paper featured a one page photo feature on physically-challenged sportspersons competing at a swimming meet at the Mahatma Gandhi Swimming Pool in Dadar. The pictures were heart warming; competitors strove hard in the pool and overcame obvious physical difficulties while showing grit and determination. In these pictures, we realised that nobody is a loser here; every competitor, in a way, is a winner, because he or she is rising above his handicap.

What we need is more sports facilities in the city, which are made with an eye for the disabled. In Mumbai, there is already a serious deficit of sports avenues. Besides maidans, we need stadiums and indoor courts for our athletes. When the new ones are built, let there be a serious, concerted effort to factor in the differently-abled. They should be able to access the grounds, drinking water facilities and changing rooms easily and with a measure of comfort. Architects have to account for the fact that differently-abled persons may also want to visit venues to watch sport, even if they are not competing. They need to have access to spectator stands, as well as facilities like food and water.

One knows that this is a tall order in a city where basic sporting facilities at the local level are abysmal. Yet, one needs to try hard to correct this lacunae as physically-challenged sportspersons are an important and integral part of India’s sporting scene.

India’s disabled athletes have done well for themselves and brought glory to the country on different levels. More than that, sport is a wonderful way to live life, it boosts self-esteem, confidence and strong values like fairness and teamwork. They are important to all-round development and personality growth. Why should disabled persons then, be deprived of such an opportunity?

Let sporting stadiums, as a part of the contemporary world, become more inclusive. Handicap facilities should be made mandatory in the design and conception stage itself. Inclusive is the keyword here.

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