The founder of a charity supporting Paralympic hopefuls has said the government must do more to fund the development of disability sports.
Anita Choudhrie believes that despite Paralympic sports getting more coverage than ever before, its increased exposure has not led to more support in helping athletes achieve their goal to represent Team GB.
Her charity Path to Success however has tried to change it with campaigns such as Path to Tokyo, supporting hopefuls for the 2020 Paralympic Games, which saw funding raised through a wheelchair basketball event last month at the Copper Box Arena.
“Funding in fact for disability sports since 2012 has been talked about more than ever before in the media,” Anita said.
“But when it comes to funding, it hasn’t picked up. In fact, the government funding for Paralympics has gone down.
“In a few of the sports the funding has been reduced or it has been withdrawn, which makes it very difficult for the Paralympians to train and to be part of international activities, competitions, sports and the Olympics.
“Government funding is very good for 50% of Paralympians, but the other half are struggling.
“The Paralympians need much more support, they need more viewing and more empowerment, and that is what we are trying to do.”
The founder of the charity, who has seen the wheelchair basketball event, which included nine teams this year and saw businesses pay to take part alongside wheelchair basketball athletes, grow since the inaugural tournament in 2016, still harbours concerns over off-the-pitch matters.
“The wheelchair basketball has been a great idea, it has been very appealing to the players and to the supporters that we have had,” she said.
“However, we cannot get too many spectators here because it always has to be on a working day, it’s difficult for people to leave work early, and obviously what we are struggling to overcome is this inhibition that people have of watching Paralympic sports, and that is the system we are trying to fight.”
Combating those unjust structures in society is sadly something Anita became accustomed to from a young age when she was growing up in India in a climate in which equality was transcended by division.
Yet her inspiration came in spite of this, notably from her grandfather, a doctor in and around the New Delhi region.
“My grandfather was always taking care of not only the paying patients, but he also had queues of people waiting to see him for free,” she said.
“He was able to use facilities and his abilities superbly to equally share support between able and disabled people.
“It was also the time that India was going through independence, so that’s the kind of education and background that I’ve had, that if you have the means to be able to support others, then you must extend your support out to them.”
It was therefore in her native India where she followed in her grandfather’s footsteps and began to become involved with wheelchairs in a school over 300km south of the Indian capital.
“I have been involved with wheelchairs in particular over the past 12 years and I have been on the board of management and trustees of the Amar Jyoti school in India, which is school for both the able and the disabled,” she said.
“All the students are from needy homes, but it is a great school and wheelchairs are used all the time.
“I have raised funds for them, and that has gone towards a new school in Gwalior, the construction of a whole new block in the premises, and this fundraising is something we do for them every year.
“We have also started a wheelchair group in the school, they get coaching and they’ve been able to enter competitions internationally.
“It is a great cause and it is run very well, and I have every confidence in the way the school is managed.”
However, the school in the state of Madhya Pradesh were themselves looking to broaden their horizons, and that’s where Anita’s current project eventually took flight and culminated in the founding of Path to Success.
“The school were doing fundraising for their silver anniversary and they were looking to raise funds in other countries outside India,” she said.
“When I invited them to come to the UK, the only way I could raise funds and give it to them was to actually register and create a charity, and I got the permission to do so over a six-month period soon after.”
That initial fundraising event in the UK has led her on to bigger and better events, and Anita believes the charity will only get better.
“My gut feeling is that Path to Success is really going to be successful,” she added.
“That gut feeling comes from the fact that I work really hard at this project and there’s always a recipient waiting and there has to be a giver.
“That’s what Path to Success does, to organise and generate funds which is what the athlete needs.
“I cannot train them, but they have to pay for coaching and transport and for their living standards and equipment, and all that goes towards improving their game.”