A quantum leap by India's Paralympians at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games resulted in a qualitative as well as quantitative improvement as India more than doubled its total medal tally in one fell swoop.
Having won 12 medals (4 gold, 4 silver, and 4 bronze) in the Paralympics so far, India scooped 19 medals at Tokyo as their tally swelled to 31 medals, more than double of their previous tally. Before Tokyo, India had sent the maximum number of participants to the Rio Paralympic Games, 19 in all. At Tokyo, 54 Indians qualified to represent the country in the quadrennial games.
The challenge for the Indian para-sportspersons is to not only sustain this enthusiasm but to build on this momentum to get more participants and a bigger medal count at Paris in 2024 and beyond.
In a country in which the disabled still struggle for such basic necessities like easy access and opportunities, this is a big ask, and its the responsibility of the Tokyo medallists to ride the momentum and take their success forward by claiming bigger medal hauls in the run-up to Paris 2024, and ensure that the para-sports, that had moved from the back pages to the front, remain in the forefront.
For that to happen, the Indian para-sportspersons will have to blaze another path to glory in international competitions in the leadup to Paris. And this journey will start in 2022 with big-ticket events like Asian Para Games at Hangzhou, China from October 9-15 2022, Commonwealth Games (for some sports like para-badminton and athletics) from July 28-August 8; and world championships in all major para-sports like World Para Athletics Championships from August 26 to September 4, 2022, at Kobe, Japan; 2022 World Shooting Para Sports (WSPS) World Championships at Al Ain, UAE, from 03-17 November and World Para Table Tennis Championships at Granada from October 24-November 3.
Besides, the qualification programme for Paris 2024 will also start for some sports in 2022, giving the Indians an early chance to clinch their berths for the Paralympics. Good performance in these events will not only boost the confidence of the sportspersons but also encourage participation in domestic events. Just like in the case of the fourth National Para-Badminton Championships in Bhubaneswar recently which saw participation multiple because of the Indian shuttlers' success at the 2020 Paralympic Games in which they bagged two gold, one silver, and one bronze medal as the sport made its debut in Tokyo.
There will also be lots of expectations from Indian shooters, who stood out in Tokyo, winning two gold, one silver, and two bronze medals. The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) will expect good results from Avani Lekhara, the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympic Games, Manish Narwal and Singhraj Adhana, who had claimed a silver and a bronze.
Athletics has given India the most medals in the Paralympic Games and so was the case at Tokyo with para-athletes bagging eight of the 19 medals that India won. Javelin thrower Sumit Antil, who set the world record thrice in winning the gold medal in the men's F64 event, has set himself a target of reaching the 80m mark. Antil holds the world record of 68.55 metres and will have to do his best to achieve the target he has set for himself.
Fellow javelin thrower Devendra Jhajaria, high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu (T63), Praveen Kumar (T64), and Nishad Kumar (T47) had all bagged silver medals in Tokyo and will be hoping to improve on their performance in the World Championships at Kobe, Japan in August 26-Sept 4.
Indian shuttlers too had excelled at Tokyo with Pramod Bhagat (SL3) and Krishna Nagar (SH6) winning gold medals. Suhas Yathiraj (SL4) won silver and Manoj Sarkar (SL3) bagged a bronzge. With badminton expected to have more medals in Paris in 2024, the shuttlers will have to build up their performance before the Paralympics. The Badminton World Federation (BWF) will host the Para-Badminton World Championships, which was postponed in 2011 but was postponed, at Tokyo, Japan, from November 1-6, 2022, and that would be a great chance for the Indian shuttlers to live up to the extra attention showered on them by the Sports Ministry and fans.
The year 2022 presents the Deepa Malik-led Paralympic Committee of India to capitalise on the good work they did at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and continue to keep para-sports in the spotlight.
That will open new doors for the para-sportspersons. So, the year 2022 would be very crucial to launching Project Paris 2024.