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Disabled by the system but not by spirit

Mahavir Rawat

On August 14 when the nation was gearing to celebrate its 73rd Independence Day, 16 physically disabled cricket players helped the tricolour fly high on the land of the Queen. India defeated host England by 36 runs to lift the inaugural Disability World Cricket Series T20. It was not only a victory over the four other teams (England, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh) that were part of the tournament, but a victory over the system which has done nothing for them. Today, if someone who is disabled or ‘divyang’ wants to play cricket, he doesn’t know where to go or what to do. When the Lodha committee was formed by the Supreme Court, it seemed as if things were going to change and there was some hope when it came to disabled cricket.

The Lodha committee recommended some much needed changes – and these changes were adopted by the BCCI in its new constitution. So technically, if any state claims to comply with the Lodha Committee guidelines then it should also comply with the provisions made for Disabled Cricket on page 70, paragraph F of the Constitution. But all the associations are more worried about the tenure of their presidents, secretaries and funds –no one cares about the disabled cricketers.

Now to solve the problem, let us first understand the problem. Right now there are numerous independent cricket bodies that run cricket for players with disabilities. Each body claims to be better and holier than the other. None of these bodies are accredited by the BCCI or part of any state cricket association. So these cricket bodies manage their own funds, run their own teams and participate in tournaments without the permission of BCCI. So when lift the inaugural Disability World Cricket Series T20 was scheduled by the England Cricket Board, the permission from BCCI was a mandatory condition. So all the cricket bodies running disability cricket in India, came together and formed a team under one umbrella. BCCI also granted this umbrella permission to play. But the approach of the country’s supreme cricket body (BCCI) towards disabled cricket and its players can be seen from its conduct. Apart from giving permission, not even a single penny or single assistance was given. There was no travelling assistance, no visa facilities, no proper dress, no cricket kit, no logistic arrangements in England, no daily allowance, no transportation facility in a foreign country – absolutely nothing.

Coincidentally, the captain of this team was also named VK (Virat Kaini) but he knows that he is not as lucky as VK (Virat Kohli). He showed great composure as captain and brought players from different cricketing bodies together and made the team champion. But he knows that the future is very dark.

So the question that arises is how different is this cricket team from the one that went to play in the ICC Cricket World Cup in March? Do the players of this team not represent India? Do these players not deserve any other facility? Is their achievement any less than that of Virat Kohli’s team? Do they not deserve the honour and respect that comes with playing for the country? If the answer to these questions is yes, then who is responsible for them?

So, after winning the inaugural Disability World Cricket Series T20 cup, the team again finds itself in very precarious situation. The players don’t know when they will play again for the country or whether they will even play together again?

They have to go back again to their respective cricket bodies and start playing whatever cricket comes through their way. And what’s more frustrating is that all the cricket bodies of different countries, including Pakistan, have a proper disability wing which takes care of their disabled cricket team.

Ravi Chauhan who was secretary of the formed umbrella is unsure about the future and says, “We thought that cricket would change after our victory in England. But it seems like no one cares about us. People with vested interests are taking advantage of the careless nature of BCCI but in the end, the ones who suffer are the thousands of disabled cricketers who are fighting and playing despite having no proper system around.”

Having attended most of the hearings at the Supreme Court, I know, for sure that this was not the scenario that Justice Lodha had in his mind when he gave his recommendations to the Apex Court. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that CoA has failed in its duty. When Virat Kohli’s team can go to participate in the world cup without any hassle, why can’t our team of disabled cricketers have the same platform? Why can’t there be a system in place where a disabled cricketer can show his talent? Disappointingly, the truth is, no one gives a damn.

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