Bengal's blind football team wins hearts on the field, but official support elusive
Ahead of a crucial match against Australia's Blind Football Team in Kochi later this month, members of the India team from Bengal are practicing their moves everyday. Five players from the state are part of India's Blind Football Team.
The Indian team is ranked 23 worldwide and is number 4 among Bengal's football teams. Much of the credit goes to Goutam Dey, founder of the blind football team and association in West Bengal.
Dey, currently a defender in the national team, was captain when India played abroad for the first time in 2013. He has played a big part in introducing blind youngsters to the game and in getting sponsorships.
To come this far is quite incredible given how the zero support the state government has shown.
Blind football layers from other states get cash awards and government jobs but not West Bengal. I wonder if the government knows there is a team! We have been fighting for recognition for a long time now. - Goutam Dey, Captain, Bengal blind football team
In blind football matches there are two teams with four players on each side. The size of the ground is smaller as compared to where regular football is played.
Like Dey, it's passion that keeps fellow national level player Suprokash Daf hooked despite the struggles. Daf hit the headlines for scoring four goals in the recent national games and is a specialist in the penalty shot.
"We are students who play in our spare time. Right now we depend completely on NGOs and people but this cannot continue. We need the support of the government to do better."
The blind football team has been sustaining itself with various awards and prizes from different companies. Their biggest source of support is Chandrashekhar Ghosh, CEO, Bandhan Bank, who takes a personal interest in their wins and has supports them in many ways. For Ghosh, the blind players are nothing short of role models.
"It is so heartening to see that they choose to focus on what they have and what they can achieve rather than what they lack. Football not only teaches team spirit, but because it is a high energy contact sport, helps maintain physical fitness. These days the youth hardly indulge in physical activities and this football team should serve as a role model for them to take up active sports."
Ghosh believes that it is players like these that are helping to change perceptions towards para sports in India.
In my view, we are changing from being a one sport nation to becoming a multi-sport and multi-skills nation. Para-athletes will see the respect they deserve in the years to come. - Chandrashekhar Ghosh, CEO, Bardhan Bank
Words that will surely lift the spirits of para sportspersons across India.