IndusInd for Sports – Making Champions that Inspire the Nation

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Sanjeev Anand

Sports have the power to change the world in incredible ways and means. It embodies values such as respect for the opponent, teamwork, and fairness – all of which are applicable in our personal and professional lives. Building on this, we at IndusInd Bank aim at imbibing these qualities in our DNA with underlying objectives to attract, mobilise and inspire communities and bring out the best in sports, i.e. human values, inclusion, and sustainability. Hence, as a logical extension of this thought, we launched IndusInd for Sports – a non-banking sports vertical in 2016 to inspire communities inside and outside the Bank, using the unique power of sports. We drive on the philosophy of diversity, differentiation and domination through our initiatives that aim at exciting, educating, and engaging the stakeholders using Sports.

One of our first programmes – Para Champions Programme – is a stunning example of what diversity and inclusion through sports should look like. Launched in 2016 in partnership with GoSports Foundation, the programme objective is to empower the differently-abled community through sport, change the perceptions of the people towards people with disabilities, and create role models and inspirations who will change the narrative around Para Sports in the country.

We use sports excellence as a vehicle for social change and a tool to improve the lives of differently-abled individuals, blind cricketers, rural children, women athletes, their communities, and the overall state of our nation. We support diverse initiatives with different partners under the theme of sustainability and inclusiveness. 

One of our first programmes – Para Champions Programme – is a stunning example of what diversity and inclusion through sports should look like. Launched in 2016 in partnership with GoSports Foundation, the Programme objective is to empower the differently-abled community through sport, change the perceptions of the people towards people with disabilities, and create role models and inspirations who will change the narrative around Para Sports in the country. The Programme is also in alignment with several objectives of the SDGs to ensure sustainability and a larger impact.

Beneficiaries of the Programme and elite differently-abled athletes from various sporting disciplines in para-sports are emerging. Our Programme partner maintains a robust tracking mechanism that has the next set of para-athletes as part of our Watch List Programme that tracks athletes’ performances and potential at the national level. The selection process for the Para Champions Programme is assessed by an expert through a three-tier assessment process. 

Year on year, we have made tremendous efforts to increase the number of athletes we support. With 18 athletes five years back, the programme is currently supporting 43 athletes. We make continuous efforts to give athletes every opportunity to grow. The kind of support each athlete may receive varies, depending on their specific needs. The support structure of the Programme includes physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, nutrition, gear, equipment and apparel, mental conditioning, medical consultations, injury rehabilitation, high-performance stints, and more. It identifies the pressing needs of the athletes, the challenges they need to overcome, the support they need to reach the top of their game, and accordingly, facilitates the required interventions for the athletes with the right set of experts.

Over time, we have witnessed a constant growth in athlete representation at both national and international levels. Our para-athletes have won a total of 623 medals since the inception of this Programme.

It is a moment of great pride to witness our supported Para Champions win laurels for the country and cement their place as bonafide achievers. This year, the Indian contingent comprised 21 athletes from the Para Champions Programme compared to 11 during the Rio Games in 2016. The rise in numbers is a testament to our larger objective of expanding the pool, and more so, in the coming years. As an organisation, we are honoured to have been part of their journey thus far, and we look forward to being partners in their progress in the future.

The most significant proof of this was that, back in 2016, the Programme supported 18 para-athletes in their journey to Rio Paralympics 2016. In five years, the number has substantially increased to 43, out of which 21 participated in the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 – meaning that nearly 40 per cent of the entire Indian contingent is part of our Programme. The goal in year one was to support athletes to qualify for the Paralympics in 2016. That year, 11 of our 18 athletes qualified for the Games and formed the majority of the largest-ever Indian contingent of 19 athletes. Three of the four Indian Paralympic medalists in Rio 2016 were from our Programme. 

As India registered its highest-ever medal tally at the recently concluded Tokyo 2020 Paralympics with a total of 19 medals, – 4 Gold, 1 Silver and 3 Bronze Medal winners were part of our Para Champions Programme.

It is a moment of great pride to witness our supported Para Champions win laurels for the country and cement their place as bonafide achievers. This year, the Indian contingent comprised 21 athletes from the Para Champions Programme compared to 11 during the Rio Games in 2016. The rise in numbers is a testament to our larger objective of expanding the pool, and more so, in the coming years. As an organisation, we are honoured to have been part of their journey thus far, and we look forward to being partners in their progress in the future. 

Our ongoing quest is to increase the numbers for representation and performances of athletes at large sporting events, including the Para World Championships, Asian Para Games, Commonwealth Games, and Paralympic Games. 

Athletes supported through the Para Champions Programme have become role models and inspirations, inspiring many young children with disabilities to take up sport and strive for excellence. Several athletes have been bestowed with national awards as well. The programme has facilitated media appearances of the athletes across various platforms, helping to raise awareness of para-sports in the country and increased the level of respect and empathy towards these athletes. Since its inception, there have been numerous learnings and findings which have come about through experience, and as the Programme continues, we aim to learn more and continue to strive for excellence.  Over the next five years, we visualise the Programme providing a platform to support, enable, and showcase the incredible journeys of para-athletes across the nation. 

Going forward, the narrative around disabilities in India needs to change. The medals the athletes win at international events like the Paralympics will not only inspire but will also help change the ecosystem in the country in terms of dialogue and infrastructure related to the differently-abled community. 

Through the Programme, we aim to highlight incredible stories of achievements of Paralympians to promote sport as a medium of empowerment amongst the differently-abled in India and change general perceptions towards differently-abled individuals. 

We see the Para Champions Programme becoming a meaningful platform for advocacy and becoming a voice for para-athletes to reach other prospective athletes and differently-abled individuals to inspire them to take up sports and pursue it seriously. Using the Programme as a medium for change, we intend to bring about a shift in the discourse around Disability Sport and the inclusion of the differently-abled in various spheres of life.

We would like to share some uplifting stories from some of our athletes who braved the odds and hurdles in life to emerge victoriously and inspire millions.

Pramod Bhagat

Sport: Badminton (SL-3)
Nature of Disability: Orthopaedic Polio (Left leg) 

Twenty-three-year-old Pramod has been affected by polio since the age of four. This had a detrimental impact on his entire body. The doctor suggested an option of localising the negative impact by amputating either his arms or his legs. His father chose the legs solely on the basis that Pramod would need his arms to eat. Pramod started playing Badminton in 2002 after watching people in his neighbourhood play the sport. He got into the competitive para circuit in 2006 after playing with able-bodied players and beating them.

His support, both financially and morally, was his family and the people from his town. Pramod is an ITI graduate. He is currently working in a government institution. IndusInd for Sports and GoSports Foundation supported him in many important aspects of training and competing at the Asian Games 2018. He went on to win three medals at the event. In late 2018, Pramod also reached the World Number 1 ranking in his category, a testament to his dedication and hard work. 2019 was even better for the supreme para-athlete as he won two gold medals at the BWF World Para-Badminton Championships. 

Pramod Bhagat was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2019. He is an inspiration to people all over the country. He became the first Indian shuttler to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, cementing his legacy as one of India’s greatest Paralympians.

Achievements 

  • 2 Gold medals at the BWF World Para-Badminton Championships, Basel, 2019
  • Bronze medal at the BWF World Para-Badminton Championship, Ulsan Korea, 2017
  • Bronze medal in the Singles and Doubles event at the BWF Asian Para-Badminton Championship, Beijing, 2016
  • Gold medal (Doubles) and a Silver medal (Singles) at the BWF Para-Badminton World Championship, England, 2015
  • Gold medal at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Men’s Singles SL-3 

Narayan Thakur

Sport: Para Athletics (100m, 200m)
Nature of Disability: Left-sided Hemiparesis (by birth) 

As a child, Narayan Thakur always wanted to play cricket, but due to financial instability and low scholarship, he shifted to track. He found inspiration in Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Despite his limitations, he was determined to do his utmost to succeed in athletics. To facilitate his dream, he worked as a waiter and even as a DTC bus cleaner for his livelihood. When he first started training on the track, he did so without a coach for two years due to his inability to pay for one. This did not deter him. From 2015 onwards, he began performing well and winning medals on the national circuit, exceeding people’s expectations and leaving his mark wherever he competed. The pinnacle of his career came in the 2018 Asian Para Games when he created history by becoming the first Indian Para-athlete to win a gold medal in the 100m event at the Asian Para Games.

Achievements 

  • Gold medal in the 100m and 200m events at the 15th National Para Athletic Championship, Patna 2019
  • Gold medal in the 100m event at the Asian Para Games 2018
  • Gold medal in the 100m event at the 18th National Para Athletics Championship 2018

Manpreet Kaur

Sport: Powerlifting – 41kg
Nature of Disability: Poliomyelitis

Manpreet was affected by Polio at six months old. After completing her B. Com and B. Ed. degrees, she got a job in a private firm to sustain herself and her family. She felt dissatisfied with what she was doing. She quit her job and then looked for options. It was then that she found her passion – Sports. 

Manpreet’s college Principal introduced her to Powerlifting. She encouraged and even took her to an academy. Her interest in the sport grew. Manpreet was unaware of the sporting opportunities and possibilities for para-athletes until then. Since her family income was insufficient to support her sports requirements, her former coach, Parminder Singh, and fellow para powerlifter, Rajinder Singh Rahelu, proved to be her biggest support system. They inspire her to reach for the stars. 

Manpreet is being trained by Rajinder Singh Rahelu. He knew that with the right financial support, she can achieve a lot and be an inspiration to many more women powerlifters. As it is, Powerlifting is a very niche sport for women in India, and in Para Sport, it is even rarer to see women participate. Manpreet aims to change that narrative through her success and inspire people to do the impossible.

Achievements 

  • Finished 13th in the 50 kg category at the World Para Powerlifting Championship, Mexico, 2017
  • Gold medal in the 50-kg Group and the 41-kg Group at the National Para Powerlifting Championship, 2016 

Rakshita Raju

Sport: Athletics (400m, 1500m)
Nature of Disability: VisualImpairment (T11)

Rakshitha is from Chikmagalur, a small town in Karnataka. She lost her parents at a very early age. She was brought up by her grandmother, who herself is deaf and dumb. Her PT Master from Ashakirana Blind School used to take her for the national meets where she was recognised by her current guide runner Sowmya, who introduced her to Rahul Balakrishna. He brought her to Bangalore to train under him at SAI along with fellow para-athlete, Radha. 

In 2017, Rakshitha was selected for the Youth Asian Para Games but unfortunately could not attend due to passport issues. The following year at the Asian Para Games, she won gold in the 1500m event, becoming one of the first Indian female athletes in her category to do so. Rakshita is the epitome of hard work, dedication and determination. She wishes to achieve all her ambitions on track and in life.

Achievements 

  • Bronze medal in the 1500m event with a personal best of 5.29.00 at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix Paris 2019
  • Gold medal in the 1500m and 800m event at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships, Nottwil, Switzerland, 2019
  • Gold Medal in the 1500m event at the Asian Para Games, Jakarta, 2018
  • Gold Medal in the 800m and 400m event at the 18th National Para Athletics Championships, Haryana, 2018

Swapnil Patil

Sport: Swimming (S10)
Nature of Disability: Orthopaedic Handicapped (Deformity in one leg)

Afflicted by Polio at infancy, Swapnil started swimming when he was six years old, on the advice of doctors, as a form of hydrotherapy. Inspired by one of India’s most successful swimmers, Virdhawal Khade, young Swapnil relocated to Bangalore to train at the same swimming centre – Dolphin Aquatics – as his hero.

The tall, lanky Kolhapur boy began competing and soon started winning medals at all local swim meets. Having done well at the national level, Swapnil represented India at international events, winning his first international medal at 15 years of age. In 2014, he was selected to be part of the Indian swimming team for the Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea. He was part of the bronze medal-winning 4×100 medley relay team, an extremely proud moment for the young boy. Over the next few years, he continued to shine on the international stage and cemented his status as one of the best para swimmers in the country. At the 2018 Asian Games, he won a bronze medal in the 400m Freestyle event, as well as a silver medal in the 150m Freestyle event, showcasing how far he had come in the four years since his last Asian Games.

Achievements 

  • Bronze and Silver medal at the Asian Para Games, 2018
  • Bronze medal in the 50m Backstroke event at the IDM Berlin Swimming Championships, 2018
  • Gold medal (50m Backstroke) and Bronze medal (50m Freestyle) at the 2017 NSW State Open Championship, Sydney
  • Bronze medal in the 4x100m medley relay at the 2014 Para Asian Games in Incheon (South Korea)

Anandan Gunasekaran

Sport: Athletics – 100m, 200m and 400m (T44)
Nature of Disability: Injured in a mine blast in 2008. Amputation of his left leg below the knee 

Anandan started his career with the army in 2005. He was an able-bodied athlete who competed in sprinting events. While serving at the LOC in J&K in 2008, he was injured in a mine blast resulting in the amputation of his left leg below the knee. Whilst in hospital, he started reading about sprinter and famous blade runner Oscar Pistorius. This inspired him to take up para-sports. In 2012, Anandan started competing in 100m and 200m sprint events with a wooden leg. He won gold and silver medals at the 2015 World Military Games in South Korea and also at the 2016 Asia Oceania Athletics Championships in Dubai. Anandan also represented India at the 2017 IPC World Para Athletics Championships in London. His promising performances in 2016 and early 2017 was a platform for him to be selected for support under the GoSports Foundation Para Champions Programme 2017-18. His incredible performances are still continuing. A career-defining achievement took place at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta when he won silver and bronze medals. In 2019, more success followed as he won three gold medals at the World Military Games held in China. Anandan is aiming to win more laurels for the nation at mega-events.

Achievements

  • Gold medal at the Paris Handisport Athletics Grand Prix, 2019
  • 3 Gold medals at the World Military Games, Wuhan, China 2019
  • Silver and Bronze medal at the Asian Para Games, Jakarta, Indonesia 2018
  • Gold medal in the 200m and Silver in the 400m event at the 8th Sharjah International Athletics Meet, 2018

We see the Para Champions Programme becoming a meaningful platform for advocacy and becoming a voice for para-athletes to reach other prospective athletes and differently-abled individuals to inspire them to take up sports and pursue it seriously. Using the Programme as a medium for change, we intend to bring about a shift in the discourse around Disability Sport and the inclusion of the differently-abled in various spheres of life.

Sanjeev Anand is the Head of Commercial & Rural Banking and the In-charge of IndusInd for Sports, IndusInd Bank.