Remember the former British wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson, who received 16 medals in her Paralympics career, along with 13 world championship medals? Or Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter, both of whose legs below the knee were amputated at the age of 11 months? Pistorius won a gold medal and a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Paralympics, three gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and two gold medals and a silver medal in the 2012 London Paralympics. These athletes, despite being physically challenged, have made a mark on the world stage, refusing to let their disabilities define them or get in the way of their dreams.
In Bangladesh, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for the third time, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP) and Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), has selected 20 talented physically challenged cricketers this year for the BCB's Physically Challenged Cricket Team. These 20 individuals were selected out of 250 aspiring candidates throughout the country. The purpose of this talent hunt is to encourage and provide a platform to physically challenged cricketers to showcase their talents.
This opportunity was a dream comes true for 16-year-old Md Sumon Biswas, who hails from a remote village of Ishwardi upazila, Pabna. Sumon was born with a congenital hand deformity. Sumon, through his perseverance and dedication, has become a source of hope and inspiration for cricket enthusiasts in his area and he has received numerous medals, crests, trophies and certificates for his outstanding performance in cricket. He is a 2017 SSC candidate and his academic excellence is also noteworthy.
Sumon, the son of farmer Chand Ali Biswas, who intended to be a fast bowler himself, believes that ICRC's talent hunt has already enhanced his confidence to a great extent and this platform is a turning point in his life. “Now I am re-energised to fulfil my dream of playing for the Bangladesh Physically Challenged Cricket Team and do something worthy for my parents, teachers, well-wishers and the country as a whole,” he said.
Like Sumon, Md Rinku Ali (18), an intermediate student from Noahata, Rajshahi, talks about the beginning of his journey of cricket. Rinku had a weakness in his right hand since childhood and he would always sit on the sidelines of the playground as his playmates ran around the field with a bat and ball. “Seeing others playing spontaneously or watching the excellent performances by Mashrafe, Tamim, Sabbir and many more, I would feel very disappointed,” said Rinku. But this very disappointment, at one point of time, inspired him to start practising cricket in spite of being disabled.
Like Sumon and Rinku, physically challenged cricketers who have been selected in this year's talent hunt have come a long way. Needless to say, their journey was not a smooth one, as in Bangladesh, people with disabilities often face social stigma as their disability evokes negative perceptions and gives rise to discrimination.
Gerd Van de Velde, Physical Rehabilitation Programme Manager of ICRC, says that by organising such events, the ICRC and its partners want to send a clear message to all those with physical challenges in Bangladesh – that opportunities are being created for them. “We strongly encourage them to participate since being active in sports improves their physical health, and also demonstrates to society at large that persons with disabilities can lead an active life,” stated Gerd.
According to Masud Hasan, chief cricket coach of BKSP, these players are extremely passionate about cricket. In the next phase, 10 out of the 20 cricketers will be selected, who will then go on to participate in different training camps organised throughout the year, along with 29 previous members of BCB's Physically Challenged Cricket Team. Apart from these, this year, the team plans to compete abroad, and in early December they will attend a tournament likely to be organised by All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged.
In Bangladesh, even though we are not accustomed to seeing physically challenged cricketers, the scenario is changing rapidly and the players are improving drastically. “Within two years, this team has successfully participated in different international cricket tournaments and has even defeated India and England in 2015,” stated Rashed Iqbal, head coach of the Physically Challenged Cricket Team of BCB.
It is believed that sports can help reduce the stigma and discrimination so often faced by the disabled, or to put it more aptly, the differently abled. Thanks to individuals like Sumon and Rinku, societal attitudes towards the physically challenged are being transformed as their skills and aptitudes take the centre stage, thereby reducing people's tendency to focus on the disability instead of the individual.