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Team Bharat wins Bronze in Special Olympics Unified Cup, Detroit.

An exclusive interview with Dr. Mallika Nadda, Chairperson – Special Olympics Bharat and Social Activist

Interviewed and written by Anu Gopalakrishnan ( © 2022 Exclusive)

The Special Olympics Unified Cup was scheduled between 31 July – 6 August 2022 and Special Olympics Unified Sports® is what makes it uniquely inclusive: Teams are comprised of footballers with and without intellectual disabilities playing together. Over 300 footballers from over 20 nations competed in Soccer. Our team from Bharat (India) typically play in 22 Summer and Winter games during the year across the world. Team Bharat comprised of teens with women players between 15 and 18 years.

Team Bharat after competing with some hot favorites of the season, took home the bronze medal. 

Some excerpts from an exclusive interview with Dr. Mallika Nadda, Chairperson – Special Olympics Bharat. Exclusively interviewed and written by Anu Gopalakrishnan, for © 2022.

Congratulations on your win! How does it feel being in Detroit and winning the bronze medal?
MN: There were 25 countries competing to win the coveted cup. Our girls gave a strong fight. They had to compete with strong countries where accessibility and sophisticated resources are available. In the end, our girls are very happy going back home with a medal.

Could you share more about your work, specifically around Special Olympics India?
MN: I have been a social worker for over 25 years working for the rehabilitation of the helpless and disabled. Special Olympics India is a national sports federation recognized by Special Olympics for the conduct of sports and development programs in the country. Since 2006, it has been organizing sports for people with intellectual disabilities and has more than 1.5 lakh registered athletes in the country.

Coming from a political family certainly wouldn’t have been easy.
MN: Yes. People have expectations and have always tried to limit work based on influence and politics. Though I come from a political background, certain issues have always been a priority for me – especially young girl children. So, I made a conscious decision of not being involved in active politics and to build my grass roots work to enable change. 

In Special Olympics, who are Unified Partners?
MN: In this specific instance, the Soccer team captained by Ms. Papiya Murmu had five differently abled girls partnering with 6 athletes without intellectual disabilities who come to assist, partner, and play with them. This focuses on evolution, partnership, inclusion, and participation. This program works great for all special needs children. The partnership is beneficial in several ways – it offers leadership, healthy athlete partnership, volunteer training, awareness of issues and allows both parties to form life long camaraderie.

Indian community has shied away in discussing social topics like mental health, autism, abuse etc. that are still blanketed in our system. What brought the change?
MN: The thinking is slowly evolved.  I would not say there is a total transformation but after the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD Act, also known as Divyangjan Adhikaar Kanoon 2016 in Hindi) came into existence, several opportunities have opened. The number of disability conditions increased from seven to 21 that included acid attack victims, autism, intellectual disability etc. We recently organized the “National Health Fest for Divyangjan- We Care” and over 1 lac differently abled registrants digitally registered for aid and now we have a strong data bank to choose and select talent.

With every initiative, comes a vision. What next?
MN: It’s my hope to have 750 accessible sports centers in all cities. At least one disabled accessible stadium in every state. With the cooperation of the state governments in India, this is not overly ambitious. Also, PSU’s and reaching grassroots training in every district. I know this a long list but we hope to start planning soon.

With every effort comes challenges. Though you have political alignment, I am sure you are grappling with some?
MN: Accessibility is key. Clearly, our infrastructure for differently abled is not at any standard – especially for Sports. Homes for special athletes is another need. Inclusive education system is primary as well. I have to really thank the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs for being very active in our progress and working with our challenges. Their support has been enormous. When special athletes win and bring home a medal, several cash awards and grants are provided – something other countries do not provide. Several coaching camps are underway. India is a huge country, topography wise, travel is a problem. Concession for special children in flights to travel long distances would be welcomed. 

How about resources and tools for training?
MN: Certainly, a huge challenge. We cannot compete with far advanced countries at this point owing to special equipment that is required. This becomes a limiting factor when we are competing with international teams who have better training facilities and equipment. Again, work is in progress, and I believe we will be there quickly in terms of world class infrastructure and training.

And, what happens when special athletes grow older and retire?
MN: We have govt. pensions, we empower them with skills training, provide jobs and comfortable living. Some of them become mentors and serve the program.

Offering her sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Indian American community in Michigan for the support, encouragement, moral cheering and above all Indian food, Dr. Mallika Nadda has been a force to reckon with when it came to social activism and strategically organizing programs for the differently abled. Her passion to educate people on disability is truly exemplary. 

As per Dr. Mallika Nadda, the Special Olympics Global Strategy 2021-24 has two main goals – a) improve local sports participation and well-being to strengthen communities, and b) remove barriers to inclusion and expand reach through digital technology. 

Special Olympics Bharat is a National Sports Federation also registered  under the Indian Trust Act 1882  in 2001 and is accredited by Special Olympics International to conduct Special Olympics Programs in India. It is recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Government of India as a National Sports Federation in the Priority Category, for development of Sports for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, and is a designated Nodal Agency for all disabilities on account of its national presence and experience, especially in rural areas which account for nearly 75 per cent of the disabled population in India. Read more:

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