Mumbai, Jan 25 (IANS): They have been part of the para-sports scene for many, many years but India's medallists at the 2020 Paralympics believe that the Tokyo Games have given sports a big fillip in the country and we will do better in Paris in 2024 if we give the same kind of attention to things in the next couple of years.
India came up with its best-ever performance at the Tokyo Paralympic Games in August-September 2021, winning 19 medals -- five gold, eight silver, and six bronze medals in all -- improving the country's performance from that at Rio de Janeiro five years ago by leaps and bounds.
Paralympians Suhas Yathiraj, Devendra Jhajharia, Pramod Bhagat, Manoj Sarkar, Harvinder Singh, Krishna Nagar, Yogesh Kathunia and Nishad Kumar feel Tokyo Paralympic Games were a watershed moment for sports in the country and now more and more youngsters are taking up para-sports.
Two of the sports that have seen a huge spike in participants at the domestic level are para-badminton and para-archery.
Over 500 participants had gathered in Odisha for the para-badminton nationals last month while the para-archery nationals, which were postponed recently due to the covid-19 pandemic, had also seen a spike in the number of entries.
"If you look at the increase in participation in the national championships that were held in Odisha it was very high. The interest in badminton is extremely high because it is a very easy sport for beginners. So para-badminton is reaching new heights in India and around the world. The BWF is also giving it a lot of attention," said Suhas Yathiraj, who is Gautam Buddh Nagar's (Noida) District Magistrate, during a virtual media interaction on Tuesday.
Yathiraj is among the 18 Olympics and Paralympics medallists who were part of the International Institute of Sports Management's initiative to recite the national anthem in a video, which was released on Monday.
Yathiraj said the Tokyo Paralympics have motivated the para-sportspersons as the medallists were treated on par with Olympians (able-bodied) by both fans and the government.
Shuttler Pramod Bhagat, who won a gold medal in the Men's Singles SL3 event at the Tokyo Paralympics, said he was amazed to see the enthusiasm among the 500-odd para-badminton players that had gathered for the nationals held in Odisha.
"This time more than 500 athletes had come for the nationals, we were completely surprised by the number. Earlier there would be 300-350.
"Para-badminton is being refined after Tokyo. The craze increased during the Olympics and doubled during the Paralympics. We also achieved a milestone and the most important thing was we were kept on the same platform as Olympians," Bhagat said.
Yathiraj said to get more medals in Para-badminton in Paris, India would have concentrated on developing the participants in the wheelchair category. "We need to provide them support and facilities. In Tokyo, we had zero participation in this category."
He also said that the state units need to be more proactive in raising funds for their events and in identifying talent.
Nishad Kumar, another medallist at Tokyo, said India have to participate in more categories in athletics too if the country has to finish among the top 10 in the medals tally.
"If we manage to have representatives in every sports discipline, our medals could increase and we can be among the top 10 countries," he added.
Apart from these, seasoned javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, para-badminton players Manoj Sarkar and Krishna Nagar were also part of the national anthem video created by the International Institute of Sports Management, which is headed by former India and Mumbai cricketer Nilesh Kulkarni.