They rustled up money from friends and neighbours to meet travel expenses, packed their basic belongings in gunny bags and then dribbled on the field barefoot to make proud a state that doesn’t care two hoots about its wonderfully talented but woefully poor sportspersons.
Meet Team Special Jharkhand, who landed the runner-up trophy in the 8th National Para Football Tournament, held in Patna between June 28 and July 1, despite several odds like being deprived of a scholarship for physically challenged under a flagship state scheme promulgated in 2006-07.
The band of bravehearts comprising seven players from Dhanbad and two from Deoghar, all aged between 20 and 34 years, sent three states, including the host, packing before conceding to Uttarakhand 2-1 in a nail-biting final at Moinul Haque Stadium in the Bihar capital on Tuesday.
Earlier, Jharkhand had defeated Uttar Pradesh 2-0, Bihar 1-0 and Chhattisgarh 3-1.
Sources in the para-football circuit claimed the boys from Jharkhand would have won the seven-a-side tourney had not two star players — Yamuna Paswan and Rajesh Paswan, both from Dhanbad — sustained injuries during the ultimate match because they had no boots unlike their opponents.
Mahuda resident Rajkapur Mahto, who captained the team of exceptional footballers, too stressed that they missed being the champion by a whisker. “Two of our boys had to retire in the middle of the match. We did not become champions, but are glad to have come this far. Wish the government supported us with training camps and equipment,” the 20-year-old said.
The Jharkhand team is deprived of every necessary soccer gear such as tracksuit, journey bag, boots with spikes and ball for practice. “Most of us borrowed or begged money from neighbours to meet travel expenses,” said Rajkapur whose father Ghaltu Mahto is a farmer striving hard to feed a family of eight.
Their counterparts from the other states were better equipped. “The other players at least had boots. We played all the matches barefoot. It was difficult, but we were good,” said Shyam Sundar Rajwar, a resident of Akaskinari area of Dhanbad.
Some members of the Jharkhand team are also medal-winning athletes. Ajay Paswan, who suffers from autism, bagged gold in the 100m and 200m sprints during the 6th National Para Athletics Championship held in Deoghar this March. Captain Rajkapur had won silver in the 100m sprint at the 4th national para athletics meet in Bangalore in 2012. While the latter hails from a peasant family, Ajay’s father is a water vendor.
Rajesh, also a son of a farmer in Mahuda, rued government apathy. “Just because the state doesn’t care, talented players will sink into oblivion,” he said.
“National-level athletes are provided with scholarship by their respective state governments, but we are a deprived lot,” pitched in another Dhanbad para-footballer Govardhan Rajak.
“Let alone hefty scholarships for skilled sportspersons, we do not even get the Rs 400 a month we are entitled to under the Swami Vivekananda Nisshakta Swavalamban Protsahan Yojana. It has been four months now,” said striker Yamuna, a resident of Malkera in Dhanbad.
District social welfare officer Bandhu Fernandez claimed they had not received allocations in lieu of scholarship from the state department for the past two months. “We will clear dues as soon as we get the funds,” he said.
The two players from Deoghar who were part of the runner-up team were Nitesh Kumar and Rath Nath Marandi.
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