Thursday, April 27, 2017

google plus
  • FIR against Shilpa Shetty and husband Raj Kundra in cheating case.

Playing for blood, sweat and tears

Our governments usually do not have a good track record of helping our players once the spotlight has faded. Many international and national-level players have lived and died in penury, at times fighting a losing battle against life itself. Don't we still owe them something; to be there in their hour of need?23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

She lies in her hospital bed staring at the wall, her eyes empty of all hope. Just a few months back, Gohela Boro, a national-level archer and winner of numerous medals, was on the cusp of participating in an international tournament. Those dreams are long gone, replaced by a bleak uncertainty about survival.

[ + read story ]

Sabi Hussain

She lies in her hospital bed staring at the wall, her eyes empty of all hope. Just a few months back, Gohela Boro, a national-level archer and winner of numerous medals, was on the cusp of participating in an international tournament. Those dreams are long gone, replaced by a bleak uncertainty about survival. 

In November 2016 Gohela was diagnosed with a rare disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Anti Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibodies (ANCA). It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues. It can be fatal in some cases. In Gohela's case it caused decaying of her fingers and toes. The very fingers which could draw a taut string, hoping to shoot for glory, cannot even hold a spoon now. She has lost almost all her toes, save two or three. Her fingers have also been affected. The disease is slowly attacking her other organs too.

Recently admitted to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Gohela, a 2015 Kerala National Games multi-medallist, including gold, is not sure if she would ever represent her state and the country ever again.

Learning about her plight, an NGO, Discovery Club, based in Kokrajhar, Assam, approached the sports administrators to ensure a better treatment for her. But nothing came out of it. The NGO turned to social media for a crowd-funding campaign, which paid for her initial treatment at the Gauhati Medical College. When her condition deteriorated there, she was referred to the AIIMS.

Only after her plight was highlighted by the media and the social media, that the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) came forth to help her. 

"The Sports Ministry has assured us of all financial help, though it's just a verbal assurance. No funds have been released in advance to clear Gohela's regular medical bills," says Morin Z Dai, co-founder of the NGO helping Gohela. 

Not just her medical condition, her future is a cause of worry for Gohela's family. Even if she is ever able to pursue her game in future, she may have to compete as a para-athlete.

"There's no recognition and financial support for para-athletes. Her parents are daily-wage labourers. How would they manage Gohela's future medical expenses? We will request the Ministry and the Assam Government to provide her a government job so as to live a dignified life," adds Dai.

But more immediate problems stare at Dai and Gohela's family members. Her daily medical expenses range between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000. Gohela might remain at the AIIMS for couple of months more. The cost of treatment could run up to Rs 5 lakh. "We met the sports secretary, who assured us that the AIIMS would not charge us anything, and the ministry would foot her complete medical bill. But there's little clarity on this issue between the Ministry and the AIIMS’ staff. We have paid for the medical tests. So far, AIIMS hasn't charged for the medicines, but we are apprehensive that we may have to pay the bills later as there's nothing in writing," says a worried Dai.

While Gohela might just get a tad lucky in getting government aid, our governments and sports authorities usually don't have a good track record of helping players once the spotlight has faded. Many international and national-level players have lived and died in penury, at times, fighting a losing battle against life itself. 

Usually, the authorities only stir to life after the plight of such sporting heroes is taken up by the media or goes viral on social networking sites.

Gohela is not alone; there have been many more — M A Salam, Shankar Laxman, Mohammed Shahid, Rajiv Mishra, Dingko Singh, Buli Basumatary and maybe many others. They all have suffered due to the government's apathetic approach. These now forgotten sportspersons, secured several medals for India, but were left to fend for themselves by the sports administrators when they were faced with extreme penury and life-threatening disease or injuries.

Funding policy

Don't the governments — both Union and the state — have a defined insurance policy or a contingency fund earmarked for sportspersons to finance them in their hour of crisis? While the union government does have a policy, wherein a sportsperson is entitled to a medical insurance of up to Rs 5 lakh and a personal accident cover of up to Rs 25 lakh, there is a catch. Not all sportspersons are covered under the insurance or the accident policy. Those who have been part of the national camps and have represented India globally in multi-sport events fall under this bracket. Any other promising athlete, who doesn't make the cut, and gets ill or injured during his playing days, he/she wouldv have to foot his/her own bills.

First pay, then claim

But even then the insurance amount that top athletes are entitled to isn't easily available to them. The usual government practice is that initially the athlete will have to pay for the treatment and then claim reimbursement. But bureaucratic tangles have almost become a tradition in most such cases. 

"My father passed away in December last year waiting for a better treatment. When I had first approached the Ministry and the All India Football Federation (AIFF), they assured me of immediate financial help. But, finally, when the cheque arrived from the Ministry after a media uproar, it was too late for us," rues Kaleem, son of footballer MA Salam.

Salam was one of the stalwarts of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Indian football team. The team had scripted a golden chapter after reaching the semi-finals after defeating hosts Australia 4-2.

The Hyderabadi footballer was suffering from Alzheimer's. In 2012, his condition worsened after a fall in the bathroom, causing a hip fracture. It left him bed-ridden till he breathed his last in December 2016.

Another legendary hockey player, Mohhamed Shahid, part of team which got the gold at 1980 Moscow Olympics, met a similar fate. He suffered from some serious liver and kidney ailments and needed a transplant. The expected expenditure was of several lakhs. Neither the government nor his employer, the Indian Railways, came to his aid. 

It was only after the media highlighted his suffering, and some former hockey players wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his condition, that the Ministry and the Railways came forward to help him. Sadly, Shahid couldn't survive long and passed away in July last year. 

More recently, 1998 Asian Games gold medallist, boxer Dingko Singh, sold his flat at a throw-away price of Rs 10 lakh to pay for a costly treatment for liver cancer. Dingko, an Arjuna awardee and a Padma Shri, underwent a 14-hour-long surgery for his damaged liver at the AIIMS in January this year. The former Navy man has now mortgaged his ancestral home to fund his chemotherapy.

"All we have got is Rs 50,000 from the SAI. Dingko is a coach with the SAI in Imphal. Sports Minister Vijay Goel had assured us of an assistance of Rs 10 lakh, but it seems it was a mere assurance. The cheque hasn't arrived as yet. We are in deep financial crisis," says Dingko's wife Babai.

Blame it on budget 

There has hardly been any increase in the sports budget since the past four years. The budgetary allocation in 2014-15 was Rs 1,643 crore. It was reduced to Rs 1,541.13 crore in 2015-16. It was marginally increased to Rs 1,592 crore in 2016-17. For 2017-18, the government has allocated Rs 1943.21 crore. Out of this Rs 350 crore has been earmarked for Prime Minister's flagship programme "Khelo India" for holding championships at school and college-levels. 

"The federations don't get enough funding. Whatever little we get is spent on organising national camps, holding championships and sending players on exposure trips. We, ourselves, struggle for funds, helping our own athletes isn't possible when they have medical bills running into lakhs. The Ministry can help despite budgetary constraints, but the intention has to be there," says a senior federation official.

Another federation official says that the insurance companies are reluctant in extending health benefits to athletes competing in 'power sports'. "Boxers, weightlifters and wrestlers don't get the insurance policy easily, as they are 'high-risk category' individuals with a greater chance of suffering a life-changing injury," the official added. 

BCCI sets an example

Despite getting bad press recently for various reasons, the BCCI has been doing a wonderful job of taking care of its players. The players, even at the Ranji-level, are insured. Under the 'medical benevolent fund', all cricketers, who have played 10 or more first-class matches, are eligible for medical reimbursement upto Rs 5,00,000 during their lifetime. Between July 2013 and April 2015, the BCCI bought insurance policies worth Rs 3,382.98 crore and paid a premium of Rs 11.68 crore, covering the players' mediclaim, personal insurance policy and loss of fees due to injury. It has insured a sum of Rs 187 crore under "special contingency insurance for players' loss of fees due to injury". 

The BCCI's group insurance policy came handy for Bengal Under-19 cricketer Ankit Keshri, who died recently due to an on-field collision in a club game in Kolkata. The Board gave Rs 25 lakh compensation to his family.

These sportspersons go beyond the physical and mental limits to achieve excellence. Thus their chances of getting injured are greater. They got us the glory and the medals many times but now when the race has been run it becomes the nation's responsibility to take care of its injured heroes.

Way out

The Sports Ministry should learn something from the BCCI. It should prepare a list of elite and promising athletes and provide them with a group insurance cover. It should also set-up a 'medical fund' on the lines of the BCCI and use it to give aid, in case of any injury or illness to the player. Instead of reimbursing medical bills later, the Ministry should set aside a contingency fund, to provide immediate cash relief in case of medical emergencies. There can be tie-ups with top hospitals to provide affordable treatment to injured or ill players. The Ministry should also make easy the process of getting aid and do away with red tape.

Playing for blood, sweat and tearsRisking limb and life: On the cusp of an international debut, 20-year-old Gohela Boro, a national-level archer, was afflicted with a rare disease, losing her toes and fingers and in the process her hopes for future. At present, she is under treatment at AIIMS, New Delhi
Blooms, not bulletsIn tulip land

Blooms, not bullets

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

The esteemed horror author of novels including Carrie and The Shining drew the comparisons in an article he wrote for The Guardian.

An uncommon
museumART & SOUL

An uncommon museum

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

Hardly anyone here is likely to have heard of the place or the museum I write about here: Gottorf, a small but attractive former Duchy in the northern-most part of Germany, right next to the border with Denmark.

Make way for nano plays

Make way for nano plays

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

The nano-second attention span that we exist in hasn’t spared the creative space too. The first-ever micro drama festival, Thespis, was held in India (and possibly in the world) in the Capital recently. On the platter were 25 micro dramas, each 10-minute long, based on different themes and in myriad languages.

Arts, last Sunday...

Much more than just mind

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

Permanent scars of the Partition

Permanent scars of the Partition

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

So much of our daily communication with others and ourselves involves shaping, telling and listening stories. And it is not just the act of conscious story-telling, as a bedtime story would be, but the process of narrativisation that accompanies, sometimes subconsciously, a large part of human communication.

The spy who remained in the coldTHE INDIAN SPY BY MIHIR BOSE.

The spy who remained in the cold

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

Kulbhushan Jadhav, formerly of the Indian Navy, and Mohammed Habid Zahir, formerly of the Pakistan Army, might be the latest cogs in the dangerous, life-sapping game of trans-regional spying introduced by the British.

Of tax collectors, colonial trappingsBOOK REVIEW: THE THEFT OF INDIA BY ROY MOXHAM

Of tax collectors, colonial trappings

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

“To use for our exclusive benefit what is not ours is theft.” This simple definition of theft by Jose Marti quite suitably fits the narrative of organised robbery that spanned four centuries, and that reduced India to a wretched site of exploitation.

Books Reviews, last Sunday...
Back to the roots

Back to the roots

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

Entertainment is the key for director Brinda Muralidhar. It is part of a strategy that she has honed in the course of her creative work at the Toronto-based not-for-profit theatre collective Kalaaranga Performing Arts, which has thus far produced 14 successful plays in Hindi and Kannada.

Sylvester Stallone sues Warner Bros

Sylvester Stallone sues Warner Bros

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

Sylvester Stallone has filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros.

Capturing the uncommon threads of life

Capturing the uncommon threads of life

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

The bubbly and ever-smiling Bobby Sarma Baruah has done it again. Her second feature film The Golden Wing (Sonar Baran Pakhi) has won the Best Feature Film Award at the recent Indian Film Festival at Los Angeles.

Entertainment, last Sunday...
Indian-ness unlimited

Indian-ness unlimited

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

Travel stories about India are aplenty and so are the writers writing them. But it probably takes one with a different kind of a heart to look beyond the superficialities of travel and delve deep into the lives of people who are as much a part of the travel experience as the various landscapes. One such writer is Elisabeth J Singh, who has authored 23 books till date, many of which are about her experiences in India. And she has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

Berry-berry refreshingFOOD TALK

Berry-berry refreshing

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

There is something magical about strawberries and cream, traditional fare at the Wimbledon. It is a magical duet that we can never have enough of.

Cinnamon vs cassia, & whyCONSUMER BEWARE!

Cinnamon vs cassia, & why

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

I use cinnamon quite extensively and buy a packet every alternate month along with my grocery. Last month, however, I could not find my favourite organic brand and when I made enquiries, I was given a packet that said ‘cassia’ and the person at the store swore that this indeed was cinnamon, renamed as cassia. He could not explain why it was renamed.

Society, last Sunday...
Streets of living history

Streets of living history

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

When on a holiday to Goa, a person usually imagines a ‘chill out’ time —frolicking in the golden (albeit overcrowded) beaches, cheap beer, fresh and delicious seafood, exciting night markets and thrilling watersports. Some will come for the casinos.

Food, flavours and forts of Alwar

Food, flavours and forts of Alwar

23 Apr 2017 | 12:29 AM

The scent of freshly baked milk welcomes as you enter the market of Alwar in Rajasthan. The city is known for its lip-smacking dessert kalakand or milk cake.

Travel, last Sunday...