Bhaichung Bhutia hails mental strength of Special Olympics athletes

The former Indian football captain wants more support for both special athletes and para-athletes.

By Subhayan Dutta

Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia has hailed the determination and mental strength of athletes with special needs.

Bhutia said people who overcame challenges in either mind or body but wanted to excel in sports, amazed him.

The former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan forward interacted with some of the special athletes on Monday in the Special Olympics’ ‘Surprise & Delight’ initiative conducted online.

The football legend shared anecdotes from his 22-year long illustrious career and spoke to some of the special athletes’ parents as well.

The 43-year-old was all praise for the special athletes as well as the para-athletes for taking up sport despite the challenges they face.

“This is special because they are an inspiration to all of us around,” Bhaichung Bhutia told the Olympic Channel.

“Despite being challenged they are into sport. These guys are very positive in life and we can learn how to be mentally strong from them,” he added.

Apart from Bhaichung Bhutia, former Indian swimming champion Bula Choudhury and seven-time Indian national tennis champion Gaurav Natekar were also present during the online session.

In their last meeting, the special athletes had interacted with Olympians Anju Bobby George, Anand Menezes and Pramila Gudanda Aiyappa, a former heptathlete.

Mary Kom with special athletes

Bhutia's inspiration

For Bhaichung Bhutia, differently-abled athletes always inspired him.

The star from Sikkim even went on to recall one swimmer, who turned out to be a huge motivation for him during his club football days in Kolkata.

“During my playing days I was inspired by Masudur Rahman,” Bhaichung Bhutia said.

Masudur Rahman Baidya had both his legs amputated following a train accident when he was only a nine-year-old.

However, that did not stopped the Bengal swimmer from conquering the English Channel in 1997 and the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001.

“I was from Bengal and I saw how he was,” Bhaichung Bhutia said. “But when you actually see the person and see that despite the challenges, he took up the challenge to cross the English Channel. It was very inspiring.”

“More than me inspiring (others), you get inspired by meeting and talking to these disabled athletes. You get more inspired actually,” he added.

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Spreading the word

Special Olympics Bharat has seen 1,258 athletes participating across nine World Summer Games and six World Winter Games between 1987 and 2019 winning 1,504 medals for the country in all.

Their most recent exploits came last year when a 284-member contingent won 85 golds, 154 silver and 129 bronze medals at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

India have been impressive in the Paralympics as well. In the 18 editions of the Paralympic Games, India has won four gold, four silver and four bronze medals so far.

And Bhaichung Bhutia believes that the country could do much better in these competitions with more support and opportunities.

“Despite India not having great support for the Paralympics, I think we will [do well],” Bhaichung Bhutia said.

“More sportspersons should definitely come forward and spread the word. Sportspersons or anyone for that matter can come and help and support. That will be nice,” he hoped.