How did you come to occupy the position of Chef de Mission and Secretary General for the 2012 Paralympics?
In 1994 I went to Germany with the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) for the world athletic meet where I saw the children perform. They had no hands or legs or eyes, but seeing their performance I decided to work for them. So I have been with the PCI since then. I was also a sprinter, the fastest man in India. I was a LIC sports commission board member. A lot of disabled people never get the chance to prove themselves, so I felt like I was chosen by god to help them. This is a difficult field to work in.
What makes it difficult?
Look at how much support they need. They need an escort, they constantly need people to look after them. It’s difficult to identify an athlete among the disabled, or even to prepare them. To look for a child for an event is so hard – you know what disabled people are like, they won’t just come and enrol or participate. There are only a very few of them who would. Given the population of India – we only have 10 athletes, but we should have as many as China, there are so many disabled in our country. The problem is that we had no government support, until 2004 when in Athens we won a gold for the first time in Indian and Paralympic history. I was president even then. My son Amar Singh was Chef de Mission. Sunil Dutt, who was then Sports Minister, got us officially recognised by the Government of India (GOI).
Who funds the PCI?
We get some money from the GOI, for the physiotherapists, coaching camps, competitions. The government supports us 100 percent now, but since 1994 all the office bearers like me have been running the organisation by ourselves. We have funded all our tours with our own money. We’re here in London in spite of the fact that the GOI has paid only enough money for three officials to be here. Our treasurer, joint secretary, have all paid for ourselves, so we have also paid for our families to join us. The treasurer is accompanied by his wife, daughter, he has paid for everything. The GOI has paid for me because I am Chef de Mission, but my son Amar Singh has paid for himself, we have not used PCI money for this. He came and worked and has gone back to India.
I don’t understand why we get no sponsorship. The GOI and state governments say people with disability should all get preference but no one puts in a single rupee for sponsorship. We need at least a minimum of Rs 1 lakh to run our office, but how can we run the office, conduct events and find and train athletes? The GOI still hasn’t sent us money for this competition (the Paralympics). The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the GOI are really helping the athletes now, but to run the administration we must still spend money from our own pockets.
Why was the PCI de-recognised in the past? What standards did you fail to meet?
I still have not understood why we were de-recognised. If the government gave us money and we misused it, or ate it up, we should be derecognised. The international body has us on priority, we pay for an affiliation every year. Once a swimming and power-lifting team went for an international event, and refused to participate. The IPC penalised us for this, and asked us to pay Rs 7.5 lakh before we were derecognised. If you enter you must participate and if you default on them you are penalised. After this we did not have a General Body Meeting as per government directives, we delayed the re-election a bit because we were busy with other athletic events like the IWAS games. So a few problems started, they issued a notice to us, it wasn’t much, for six months they derecognised us. The IPC derecognised us after collecting our Rs 7.5 lakhs.
We had a meeting a few months ago to decide the budget of the Paralympics with the SAI director general. Ajay Maken was out of town so he couldn’t make it. His Personal Secretary was there, so was SAI’s. They asked how much would we need to get through the event– I said to train our children, get kits, get all the facilities we need about Rs 5 crores, which had already been sanctioned to us. We weren’t spending even Rs 2 crores of that normally, but given that we had to train extra hard for the Paralympics, we asked for more. They agreed to give us Rs 3 crores. It was not sufficient, but we cancelled 45 days of training in London for 21 days, so that they could acclimatise to the weather here.
No matter what you say, the athletes that come here perform the best that they can, end up in at least the top 8. It is the shooter’s 5th Olympics, but in spite of that he hasn’t performed too well. So some performances have been dull but otherwise it’s very good.
There have been reports that the athletes’ coaches have not been allowed access to the athletes, how do you respond?
Look, I have all the papers here. How many athletes are there? (Looks at a paper to confirm) 10! So we have to accommodate coaches, officials and escorts. Only six members are allowed. So who all can we accommodate? What I did was give two positions to coaches, two to escorts and two to officials. Now we need two officials here to do the day to day work, to give any entry, to look after the specifications of every item of clothing the athletes wear, they have to match up to Paralympic standards, rules and regulations. So you have to send all the uniforms and equipment for inspections,
So who did this for India?
Indian officials. So we need to have that many hands on board. Every discipline must have one person in charge to look after four events that may take place simultaneously. We have to decide this at the time of accreditation. I can’t be everywhere or anywhere, my job is different I have to look after everything. Now just the way you have entered the village, wherever you go hundreds of wheelchair persons are moving without escorts – so why do we need that many escorts? This is why the IPC does not allow us that many escorts.
(Paralympics volunteers told Tehelka that other countries adjust the number of escorts they need within the quota).
Amar Singh (Ratan Singh’s son) came here as my assistant and he was helping the shooter for the Paralympics. Every day he went to the shooting range from morning to night to help. He didn’t need to go, but he was going in spite of being a very big personality, partner of a very big company and still he was going and assisting him.
(Athletes, coaches and officials said they had never seen Amar Singh at the venue).
All our office bearers have joined the PCI with the sole aim of helping athletes. No one is here to give us money, none of us earn salaries, we are all working on honorary basis. Employees of the administration must be paid, we must maintain our office decorum also, see phones, logistical work, we need money for all this. How is all of this happening only this year? No one pays us and we have no sponsors. Teams have come and performed at the Parlaympics, and left and there has been great improvement. You ask me why we were de-recognised, and I have no idea. When they derecognised us, the GOI owed us Rs 36 lakh, they still need to give us about Rs 13-14 lakh. The Committee has not asked the GoI for any of this money. We are working for this organisation, I have to ask the Government again why they derecognised us.
This time around, the athletes – I don’t want to say this, because it is a family matter, a matter of the country’s prestige. If we let the country down, it is an insult to us. I have nothing to say, we have not come here as politicians.
If you are here as a family as you say, why are the athletes holding press conferences against you? Have you spoken to them?
We made one mistake. In all these years we went with limited coaches, one or two and escorts. We’d go perform and come back. This time the athletes started requesting personal coaches. As a result we told them long back we’re taking the coaches with great difficulty to London, but they cannot stay at the Village or the stadium. The athletes agreed. That’s the only reason we brought anyone.
In addition, our honourable minister is coming. His PS is coming. His one more assistant is coming. They want someone from the Indian Embassy here to come, he wants accreditation. And they will only allow three dignitaries for the entire nation, whether it is the PM, SM or president.
But this is the same for every country. How many people do other dignitaries require to travel with them?
It is the same for every country. Every minister is only allowed one other assistant, how can this work? All this information goes to the London protocol department, which sees – who is this minister, what are his duties, how important is he in the country and determine how many officials each person needs. If he is a prominent person for sports only then they will give accreditation. Now they have sent two three letters to me, they are not accepting one more assistant as a dignitary. What will I do? Suppose tomorrow they do not permit, the Minister will get angry with me. Mr Kashyap, Mr Sebastian and Mr Tomar are coming. One Brigadier is coming from the embassy. Now they should have given me these names earlier. The accreditations were closed six months ago, and in London once they close the matter they will not open it again.
But have you spoken to the athletes about their problems at all?
See, we used to call them for meetings, they would accept everything we said. Then they go out and for the first time it is happening that they went and spoke to media. One example I’ll tell you – that power-lifter (Farman Basha was one of the first Indian athletes to complain about mistreatment of Indian athletes at the Games) is coming for his 3rd Paralympics, but till now he has come alone. We had one more coach come in instead of his coach. They will practice for four years to be part of the Paralympics. Even to get a chance in the Paralympics is a great deal, which they got. When they got it, their intention should be his competition, his performance and his winning the medal. Other than that, nothing should be there in his head. In India he requested that he wanted a personal coach for when he goes for practise. I told him even then, he can come but he can’t come in to the Village to help you. Then he wanted his wife as an escort. It was very difficult to adjust everyone to this quota. There is a quota for everyone to stay in a hotel, where all of us can stay with however many people that we want. It’s only in the village that this is a problem. I have to be here because without a Chef de Mission we cannot have a team. So we have done everything according to the rules. Amit Kumar Saroha’s (discus thrower) coach is Naval Singh. I wrote to the IPC and asked for a personal quota. He is allowed up to the warming up area, not to the main stadium. He can watch as an audience member. No coaches are allowed for any of the events.
Is it the same for all the nations?
For India. But the pass you are here on – they can enter and stay, see everything good or bad, stay here till night. They can train them also. I have felt very bad. That relationship has broken this year. What I want above everything is that we should win three to four medals for certain. The long jumper hasn’t performed up to standard either.
Why do you think the athletes haven’t performed to their potential?
That’s what I don’t understand. When the athlete goes to the competition he should just concentrate on what’s going on. At the time of the event he has to look at what he is there for. Now see, if I am doing the long jump, I will take a measurement, see where I step from hundreds or thousands of times. Instead he fouled three jumps. What I did was sit and observe this. Athletes usually look up at the camera and ask for the audience to clap for them. Who is there to clap for India? Other nations have thousands to clap for them, have lots of encouragement. Now if we get ten medals, we will automatically have that many people watching us. We didn’t have that. I saw his face, he smiled when he looked up and I felt joyful, knowing that our athlete was happy. But as soon as he looked down, that smile vanished, his face changed. We would have got a definite medal. He missed the medal by 12 cms. If he can do 6 80 otherwise, why should he do only 6 42? That’s how we lost all the medals.
I want to tell the athletes to concentrate on their events and forget everything else. At the time of the event, I can’t think about my wife or brother or anybody. No one will come in front of me except my competition. These days, all they want to talk about is – oh I have not got any food since the 12th of this month. Now you can see how far the dining hall is you can see it from my window. Thousands of people are going and eating and coming, so how can they go around saying I haven’t got any food from the 12th? The arrangements are so good, there are so many different dishes, why have they forgotten about all that to ruin the name of the organisation? If it were true that we had embezzled GOI funds, they should definitely say something – but to the government through a letter, not the press. Till today we have not got a rupee, and the treasurer is distributing money to everybody. Till the money comes, we are spending our own money and we are not a big organisation. We are a big organisation, but money wise we are very very small.
Now if a man with one leg can jump 2.10 m, or 1.77 m, our competition is at a high level, there is no doubt about that. I saw all this when I decided to work with them. With one small statement they have disrobed us. Farman’s wife has been given accommodation in a first class hotel, she is eating the same things we are eating, she has more facilities than us. We can only roam around in the village, and look after work, we are limited persons. She can roam in all of London. So I am asking all my press friends – you can see everything, we give you all the correct information, but by printing even one or two wrong facts you will destroy all our efforts. Now after all the things they have said, who will want to work with the PCI?
It really hurts me. I feel like giving up on it, I can live like a Maharaja if I need to. I haven’t paid to come here. I’ve been a rich person since the 1970, living like a king. Why would we work and come here and listen so much? This is what I ask my friends in the press – why don’t you respect me? Why don’t you respect the country?
So therefore you know exactly why the athletes are missing medals?
Thanks to god, I have no problem with finances, I can run the rest of my life, I’ve made enough. I have joined this field only to serve, to work. I work for them 24 hours. As an athlete I can see when they are not performing up to their capacity. I was also a long jumper, a triple jumper, a sprinter. I know all the techniques. I can find out I can tell them I can advise them. But somehow I don’t know why in this tour there has been so much bad press, or how it started. This is the problem.
What action do you intend to take against athletes that have bad-mouthed the PCI officials to the press?
It is a very serious matter. When we go home we will look into it, give out four months to one year ban wherever necessary. But it hurts me like the death of a family member, like my own parents or children have died — that the athletes spoke against us.
The interview was taken before the Sports Ministry had issued a show-cause notice to the PCI for all complaints made by the athletes in London.
Nishita Jha is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.