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Backroom games shut out Bengal

Washington, Aug. 23: Bengal and much of the Northeast will miss the bus when five lakh Indians with mental handicap are trained in sports between now and 2005 under an ambitious, one-million-dollar-a-year programme promoted by the Kennedy family.

The programme, details of which were unveiled here yesterday, plans to make India the top priority for Special Olympics, an international organisation set up in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the late President John F. Kennedy.

Bengal will also be completely left out of this year’s national games for the mentally retarded, which are to be organised by Special Olympics Bharat in several locations in India from September 7 to October 26.

The omission of the state and parts of the Northeast is the result of a dispute between the Delhi-based national office of Special Olympics Bharat and its regional office in Calcutta.

The regional office, headed by Leena Bardhan, area director, took the dispute to court, which has ruled that Special Olympics Bharat cannot operate in Bengal, according to Air Marshal (Retd.) Denzil Keelor, chairman of the Indian national body.

Keelor, one of the two Keelor brothers who became household names during the 1965 war for their daring air raids deep into Pakistani territory as pilots of the small Indian Air Force Gnats, is here to acknowledge the Special Olympics initiative for India and unveil plans to American supporters of the programme.

He said the dispute between the Delhi office and Bardhan took a turn for the worse when the national committee derecognised the Calcutta-based unit late last year.

The action, according to Keelor, was prompted by the abrupt cancellation of a coaching camp for mentally retarded children from Bengal and the Northeast.

After repealing the accreditation of the Calcutta outfit, the national office went ahead and ran the camp for 700 children on its own. A corollary to that action was a court case, as a result of which, Special Olympics has been turfed out of Bengal. Since Calcutta is the area headquarters for the eastern region, much of the Northeast will also be affected.

Keelor indicated that with so much on his plate with the US-based Special Olympics global organisation’s choice of India as a priority, he may not find the time or the energy to have the court order appealed or vacated.

The result would be that Bengal and parts of the eastern region would be left out of the global push for Indian children with mental disabilities.

Thomas B. Songster, senior vice-president of the Washington-based global body, who will spend half the year every year in India until 2005, said so far China was the top priority for Special Olympics.

He said China was being given half a million dollars a year for training mentally retarded people in sports, but India would get at least double the amount in view of the size of the country’s planned programme.

Keelor regretted that even with the ambitious plans only a small percentage of India’s mentally retarded, estimated at three crore, would be reached.

What is envisaged is a year-round programme of sports training and competition for the mentally handicapped, national games and participation in the World Games for mentally handicapped in Dublin in June next year.

The US-based organisation has so far helped train over one million athletes in 150 countries. It is now headed by Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s husband, Sargent Shriver, who founded the Peace Corps during Kennedy’s presidency and was the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1972.

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