This incident will go down as the darkest chapter in India’s sporting history. Indian swimmer Kanchanmala Pande who is visually impaired and takes part in the S11 category had to go through horrors in Berlin, Germany where the Para-Swimming Championships has been held. While the Nagpur-based blind swimmer was struggling to make ends meet, the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) allegedly did not give any support to their athletes financially.
Not just her, but five other athletes including Suyash Jadhav went through a similar phase. Due to PCI’s inefficiency, Kanchanmala Pande had to beg and borrow money during their stay from July 3-9 during the Championship qualifiers. According to her, the sanctioned money did not reach them at all and they had to pay out of their own pocket to eat and stay at the hotel. The swimmers were also asked to arrange for their visas and other expenses as well.
Despite everything that she and other athletes had to go through, she managed to qualify for the World Championships by winning a silver medal along with Suyash Jadhav. They were able to beat the qualifying mark in 100m Freestyle (1:34:00), 100m Backstroke (1:41:00), 100m Breaststroke (2:01:00). Pande also qualified in 200m Individual Medley (3:03:00).
“I never thought I would face such problems. I had to take a loan of Rs 5 lakh so that I could participate in the tournament. I had to qualify for the World Championships and I don’t know why PCI didn’t understand its importance,’ Kanchamala, who is also an assistant with the Reserve Bank of India in Nagpur, told Mail Today UK.
“I was not given any official confirmation if I will receive a reimbursement for the expense I bore. I had to pay around Rs 70,000 (£844) for the hotel and more than Rs 40,000 (£482) for food.There was a time when I had no money left. I was simply devastated. Moreover, they put my name in 50m Backstroke when it was never my event,”
“I had to write letters to the International Paralympic Committee when a coach was appointed to take care of the swimmers,”
“He (Singh) didn’t help me at all. I used to go back to the hotel just with my escort and God knows where he used to be. Once, I took a tram from the tournament venue to my hotel and I had no money. I had to travel without ticket and was caught by the checker who later fined me £120 (about Rs 10,000),’ Kanchanmala said.
“He (Singh) asked for participation fee from me when it should be PCI paying for all of this. Even though he paid the fee later, I had a very rough time with him. A coach should be helpful and always take care of athletes. I didn’t see any of that.”
“We are facing problems from with SAI regarding sanction of amount for championships. The money for Berlin tournament didn’t come on time and as the process takes around 3-4 days, we weren’t able to provide it to the swimmers,’ he said.
“I am here in London for the World Athletics Championship and we are also facing a shortage of money. SAI sanctioned just £40,000 (Rs 33.16 lakh) while the organisers are asking for £80,000 (Rs 66.32 lakh),”
To make the situations worse, the PCI and Sports Authority of India (SAI) started their blame game regarding the sanctioned money.
“We will hold meetings with SAI officials to discuss this matter. So, a fix to all this will be done once the London meet is over.
‘The swimmers will be given back their money. As for the coach problem, I am not aware of it. As soon as I get back to India, we will talk to the swimmers and carry out an inquiry if needed.”
Despite the horrors, she went through in Berlin, the para-athlete’s spirit does not seem to be dimmed. She hopes to win a medal for India as she has qualified for the main event.
“I hope a repeat of this will not happen in the future. Athletes, especially the disabled, are meant to be treated with respect and such incidents shouldn’t be tolerated. Now that I have qualified, I want to train hard and win medals. I am getting to my best and with proper guidance and training, hope to have a successful campaign in Mexico.”