After India’s record-setting haul of 19 medals at Tokyo Paralympics, Deepa Malik, head of PCI, said they will look to capitalise on the momentum by creating more certified classifiers in the country, holding timely selection trails, and conducting timely Nationals.
After overseeing India’s record-setting haul of 19 medals at Tokyo Paralympics, Deepa Malik, the head of the Paralympic Committee of India, said the governing body for para-sports in India will look to capitalise on the momentum from these Games to set up much-needed support structures in India.
These plans include creating more certified classifiers in the country, holding timely selection trails, and conducting timely Nationals.
A country such as India, with a 1.3 billion population, has been woefully short of classifiers — as per Malik’s own estimate there are no classifiers for para-athletics while para-shooting has just one classifier.
Classification is a unique aspect of the Paralympics. It serves to determine which para-athletes are eligible to compete in a category of a discipline, thereby making it a fairer contest. But it also ensures that the impact of impairment is minimised.
An international classifier is someone who is trained and certified by an International Federation (IF).
Each international classifier is trained for one specific impairment category (intellectual, physical or vision impairment). According to the IPC website, the following qualifications are most common among classifiers: intellectual impairment (psychologists, experts in the sport and biomechanics), physical impairment (medical doctors, physiotherapists, experts in the sport and biomechanics) and vision impairment (ophthalmologists and optometrists).
“I’m going to have a conversation with the sports minister once I return that we need to have more of a knowledge bank and the right people applying for becoming classifiers. If a physiotherapist or an orthopaedic doctor or a neuro-physician goes and learns about the classification of muscle charting etc, it makes more sense than a layman going. We need to have more of a scientific approach.
“Right now, I had a word with International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons regarding more classification opportunities and he said that these classifications are directly linked to competitions. Unless we have an athlete entered into a competition, they cannot get classified. You’re first classified in the medical room and then your action is evaluated during the sporting event. So, we have to ensure our new athletes get more opportunities to get classified,” Malik said during a press conference organised by Eurosport, the Tokyo Paralympics’ Indian broadcast rights holders. “The classification process is different for different sports. Individual sports have individual classification knowledge and processes.”
Malik, who was herself a Paralympic medallist five years ago at Rio 2016, said the aim for the PCI was now helping the next generation get classified as soon as possible. The immediate goal, she said, was to work towards the Youth Asian Para Games, which are coming up in Bahrain next February.
“We have to start with our younger brigade. The young generation, as shown by some in Tokyo, is ready and roaring. And we need to give them a platform to be classified. That’ll happen when they go out and participate internationally, get more and more opportunities to get them medically classified. Otherwise, the new talent will get wasted. They have to get classified as soon as possible so that they can start training in the correct event and the correct categorisation,” she said.
She went on to add that her goal now was to streamline the competition structure.
“(We need to hold) Timely selection trails and timely Nationals. I want to shift the Nationals to some window between September and November rather than the end of the financial year. When we used to do this, then everything happened in a jiffy. We wouldn’t get time to prepare our athletes. Unless we have shortlisted our athletes for the next big event, how are we going to even send a proposal to the government for a national camp? Working around the ACTC (Annual Calendar for Training and Competition) is going to be very aggressive. We’re going to shortlist the important qualifying international events,” she said.
On being asked what had led to the massive medal haul — India had won 12 medals from 1968 to Rio 2016, while at the Tokyo Paralympics, the Indian contingent has won 19 medals — Malik said: “In 2016, with the help of media and the support of government policies, we could create an atmosphere which was accepting of para-sports. People started to look at para-sports as a prestigious platform to empower themselves and create abilities being disabilities.
“By the time the Tokyo Games came, even coaches have understood that they need to take a very scientific approach. They’re more accepting of sports sciences. Till 2014 or 2015, I’ve experienced that coaches would be very possessive about their athletes. Be it a physiotherapist’s or a nutritionist’s job… coaches claimed to know everything. But now even coaches have changed. They’re asking for help from physios, they are asking for injury management, they’re asking for performance tests. They want to take the opinions of a fitness and conditioning expert. When their athlete is not feeling good, they want a mental trainer for them.”
Malik said that she was hoping the momentum built thanks to the 19 medals — including five golds — would also translate into more sponsors and organisations coming forward to join hands with them.
“Target Olympic Podium Schemes and other funding schemes take care of the elite athletes. We, as a federation, are responsible for identifying and working with new talent. So we’re hoping that more stakeholders will come forward to hold our hand, and give us the financial support needed.”