Sameeha Barwin, a female deaf athlete was recently left out of the squad for the 4th World Deaf Athletics Championships scheduled between August 23-28 in Lublin, Poland. Barwin’s mother Salamath was told by the All India Sport Council for the Deaf (AISCD) that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) was unwilling to send her daughter, the only female deaf athlete from India, along with the team of five deaf male athletes.
18-year-old Sameeha Barwin, a resident of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, is a 100m track athlete and a long jumper who has medalled at three consecutive national athletic championships for deaf athletes. During the trials in New Delhi, Barwin cleared the qualifying mark of 4.25m in the Long Jump event for women with ease. As seen in this video of the event uploaded on YouTube, at the 3:13 mark she cleared 5m, as measured by the officials.
On the 16th of July this year, the AISCD announced national selection trials for the world athletic championships. 12 deaf athletes, including two women Sameeha Barwin and Versha Gulia from Delhi, were invited to attend the trials to be held on July 22. Gulia did not make the cut for the Poland meet.
With less than six days between the notification and the event in New Delhi, Barwin was forced to make the decision to travel alone. Given the raging COVID-19 pandemic, it was not possible for her mother to accompany her.
Sameeha Barwin made the trip with four other male deaf athletes and no escort. This, after Salamath had repeatedly requested the state body to send someone to accompany her daughter. It was the first time Barwin has travelled alone overnight without a parent.
At the New Delhi trials, she paid 1000 INR in cash as entry fee and was not provided a receipt for payment by the officials. Furthermore, her state association did not facilitate any food and staying arrangements during her visit to the capital.
Since her return to Kanyakumari, calls to J Santhosh Kumar, the Honorary General Secretary, Tamil Nadu Sports Council of the Deaf (TNSCD) have gone unanswered. The AISCD’S leadership has also been unresponsive to Salamath’s requests to speak with them through an interpreter.
The AISCD is a Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) approved National Sport Federation (NSF) for all deaf athletes to pursue competitive pathways. The NSF has been provided annual funding of over INR 9 crores since 2005 according to documents accessed from the MYAS.
Without any paperwork with details of the distance jumped by Sameeha Barwin, Salamath says it is difficult to take her daughter’s case to court. Recognised NSFs in India are bound by law to maintain proper documentation of events.
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V Vijayakumar, is the Member of Parliament from Sameeha Barwin’s Lok Sabha constituency of Kanyakumari. On July 26 this year, Vijayakumar wrote a letter to sports minister Anurag Thakur requesting him to ensure that the athlete is included in the Poland squad.
In his time-bound letter to the Minister, a copy of which is available, Vijayakumar also stated that funds to sponsor Sameeha Barwin’s trip be made available. So far, there has been no response from the sports ministry. According to Salamath, who runs a coffee stall in the Kadaiyaalumoodu area of Kanyakumari, this is not the first time her daughter has faced challenges while navigating the sport spaces for the disabled in India.
Securing certificates that record her athletic achievements has also been an arduous task. Salamath says, “These documents are owned by the deaf athletes with pride and shared within their communities. It boosts their confidence to engage in society with everyone else.”
The team is scheduled to leave for Poland on August 14 2021. It is yet to be ascertained if Sameeha Barwin will be part of the squad. An email with questions sent to the AISCD went unanswered. This story will be updated if and when they respond.
UPDATE: In an email response to the authors’ queries regarding Sameeha Barwin’s case, the AISCD says she was invited for the trials based on her performance in the National Championships in January 2019. Her events are 100 metres run and high jump. According to the AISCD, Sameeha insisted at the trials that she wanted to compete in the 200 M run and Long jump. AISCD says it allowed this on a “humanitarian basis”.
It is unclear how a National Sports Federation can arbitrarily allow a nationally selected athlete to compete in a category it claims she ‘requested’ on the trials site.
Barwin’s jump at the National trials in Long Jump (5.0M – highest attempt) qualifies her to be included in the squad. In their response, AISCD also mentions an administrative sanction from SAI that has only chosen the top five athletes in a ‘merit list’ that was shared with SAI from the federation. A copy of the merit list was not shared in contrast to the claim that the merit list was being shared in the email communication that the authors received. AISCD on 23 June requested SAI to sanction funds for ten athletes and two coaches to travel to Poland.
In the email response received from AISCD, 15 scanned pages from the trials at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium were shared. No entries were noted for 100 m and High Jump for which Sameeha Barwin made the two-day journey to New Delhi on a short notice of three days.
In response to the query about why documentation is not provided to the athlete for proof of participation, AISCD said, “For trial, no certificate other than the selection committee’s report is usually provided.”
AISCD also shared, “The Ministry may have their reasons to reduce the number of athletes and fix as five either financial or COVID restrictions. We are not yet sure, but we were only obeying the instructions of the Ministry and if OBEYING THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE MINISTRY is a mistake, we accept that mistake.”
The AISCD also mentioned that they had also been contacted by the Court of the Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities in Delhi, and State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities in Chennai seeking an explanation for the above-mentioned incident. Responses sent to both the offices from AISCD’s office have been requested.
Padmini Chennapragada is a disability sports researcher based out of Hyderabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aman Misra is a deaf sports journalist based out of Kolkata and can be reached at email@example.com.
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