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Para badminton camp in Mumbai seeks to nurture talent, attract support

Para badminton in India has come of age with Indian shuttlers winning medals at top international events, putting the country on the world map. However, support especially for new players is hard to come by, forcing many to drop out for lack of training opportunities.

To encourage more players to come forward and give them a chance to learn from the experts, a two-day para badminton camp is being organized in Mumbai on 2 and 3 February. The camp is being organized under the banner of the Para Sports Association Mumbai and will be held at the American School of Bombay, which has top of the line facilities.

The camp is open to people with disabilities above the age of 12 years and there are four coaches lined up, which include para athletes Satyaprakash Tiwari and Mark Dharmai.

Over 70 people have signed up so far, many of them from outside Mumbai. Outstation participants have to organize their accommodation. The camp is the brainchild of champion para swimmer Mohammed Shams Aalam Shaikh.

Shams, who attended the Global Sports Mentoring Program, a United States government initiative to empower athletes with disabilities, wants to raise awareness among the community using sports as a medium.

We have entries from people across disability types like Down syndrome, autism, wheelchair users, people with dwarfism, etc. It is s good mix and we have the full support of the American School. When I was in the U.S for the program, I saw how much encouragement and support para sportspersons there get and I am hoping such camps will encourage talent here as well. - Mohammed Shams Aalam Shaikh, Secretary Para Sports Association, Mumbai

Shams organized a similar camp in throwball and swimming for para sportspersons last year, says he was encouraged by the response. "Many people who had never taken part in competitive swimming went on to win medals in zonal championships after last year's camp, so I am hopeful that this will produce similar results."

Changing attitudes

Coach Tiwari, who has won medals in swimming, badminton and athletics in international championships, believes such camps are necessary to tap into the growing potential of para sports. "In the last two to three years, para sports is getting more visibility and more youngsters are coming forward. What they lack is support at the initial level. Take para badminton, for instance. Players need a wheelchair, which is different and more expensive than a regular wheelchair. Few can afford them, nor does the government help out, but we are seeing more players invest in one and that is encouraging."

The camps will also help break down attitudinal barriers, hopes Tiwari. "Lack of courts is a major problem that para badminton players face because wheelchairs are not allowed on the courts. There is a perception that the wheels will damage the surface, and this is not true. "

Among those who has signed up is Tushar Shinde who is traveling from Nashik for the camp. Shinde, who has dwarfism, started playing about two years ago. "I am looking for advanced training and tips that will help overcome the disadvantages due to my low height. There are many techniques to overcome that and I want to learn them to start playing competitively."

Also, looking to show his mettle at the national level is Dhaval Shah from Mumbai. The 28-year-old is a wheelchair user and took to the game two months ago. "I want to take this up competitively and this camp will help me assess whether I am ready for that challenge."

Shams is determined to hold such camps on a regular basis to motivate the community and one day, attract corporate support. "I am convinced that looking at the medal winning performances and the commitment shown by para sportspersons, the attitude will change."

Few can argue with that attitude.

ALSO READ:Mumbai to host first national throwball & swimming camp this week

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