Kanchanmala Pande, one of five Indian para-athletes in Germany to take part in the Para Swimming Championships, was forced to beg and borrow money after the money sanctioned by the government for the swimmers’ tour did not reach them.
As a para-athlete, Kanchanmala Pande knows well how to swim against the tide. But this time, she was left high and dry by India’s sports authorities.
Nagpur-based Kanchanmala, who is completely sightless and swims in the S11 category, had to face extreme misery during her trip to Berlin because of alleged slip-ups by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).
She and five others participating in the Para Swimming Championships in the German capital from July 3-9 had a harrowing time as the government money sanctioned for their tour did not reach them.
But the situation failed to deter the athletes’ fierce determination. Despite all odds, Kanchanmala and Suyash Jadhav won silver medals and qualified for the World Championships.
Kanchanmala, 26, beat the qualifying mark in 100m Freestyle (1:34:00), 100m Backstroke (1:41:00), 100m Breaststroke (2:01:00) and 200m Individual Medley (3:03:00), in which she also picked up a silver medal. She became the only female swimmer from India to qualify for the World Para Swimming Championships this year.
The sportspersons have been inspired by India’s remarkable show at the Rio Paralympics last year, where the country posted its best-ever performance by winning two golds, a silver and a bronze.
‘NEVER THOUGHT WOULD FACE SUCH PROBLEMS’
Kanchanmala and her escort Jaimala Pande were part of the Berlin contingent that was granted sponsorship by the government. However, the PCI failed to provide her the money and she was forced to bear her hotel and food expenses.
“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.
“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 for the hotel and more than Rs 40,000 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.”
The swimmers were also asked to arrange their visas, which cost her additional Rs 15,000. To add to the misery, Kanchanmala, who won a bronze at the 2011 World Para Games, was shocked to see that the PCI had registered her in the 50m Backstroke event when she had actually applied for the 100m Backstroke.
In her own words, Kanchanmala’s Europe trip was no less than a “horror show”. The coach Kanchanmala refers to is Kanwaljeet Singh, the man sent by the PCI to assist the para-swimmers.
Singh was allegedly of almost no help, often going missing during the main events while also going to the extent of asking for 90 pounds (Rs 7,462) as participation fee.
“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 pounds (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.”
However, PCI vice-president Gurucharan Singh maintained that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) had not sanctioned the amount for the tournament while also saying that the swimmers will be refunded their money.
“We are facing problems from with SAI regarding sanction of amount for championships. The money for swimming championship in Berlin 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 problem of shortage of money. SAI sanctioned just 40,000 pounds (Rs 33.16 lakh) while the organisers are asking for 80,000 pounds (Rs 66.32 lakh). 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. I assure you, 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 will carry out an inquiry if needed.”
Despite the frustrations, Kanchanmala fulfilled her dream to qualify for her second World Championship and wants to put all this behind as she aims for more glory in the September meet.
“I hope a repeat of this will not happen in the future,” she said. “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.”