2019 Paragliding World Championship: flying for India with 'cut wings'

NEW DELHI: In August Of This Year, Three Indians Have A Chance To Participate In The Paragliding World Championship In Macedonia. But To Go There, They Will Have To Clear Their Already Expired Bank Accounts.

The Above Situation Of Pilots, As Paragliders Are Called, Is Not New.

In September Last Year, Paragliding Made Its Debut At The Asian Games. But Despite Bright Medal Prospects, The Indian Contingent Didn't Have A Paragliding Team. In Fact, The Proposed Pilots Were Asked To Give An Undertaking That Their Participation At The Asian Games" Will Be The Basis Of No Cost To The Government Of India And Aero Club Of India (ACI)" .

The Pilots Signed That Venture, But There Was Still No Room For The Paragliding Team In The Indian Contingent. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Turned A Deaf Ear And ACI, Which Controls Paragliding In India, Had To Show Empty Hands To The Pilots.

The ACI Is A Member Of The World Air Sports Federation (FAI). While The International Olympic Committee Recognitions FAI, The ACI Is Only Recognized By The Ministry Of Civil Aviation In India.

Gurpreet Singh Dhindsa, Vijay Soni And Ajay Sharma were the pilots whose names were proposed for the Asian Games; And they are also among the four who have qualified for FAI World Paragliding Championship in Krushevo, Macedonia .

Interesting Enough Sharma Coached Some Members Of The Nepal Team Winning A Silver Medal Asian Games 2018 .

" Four Of Us Qualified," Said Dhindsa, Talking To Times Of India From Bir At Himachal Pradesh." One, Debu Choudhury, Turned It Down As, I Think, He Is Moving To France.

He Stopped For A Second Before Continuing.

"With us required to pay the fees And bear other expenses ourselves, the third one might back out And only I And Vijay may go."

Dhindsa, one of the leading paragliders in India, has been involved in competitive flying for over 15 years now, though not very actively of late. Also a certified instructor, he runs a flying school in the Bir district of the Kangra Valley And is also trying to revive his small cafe, largely to fund his travel expenses for flying .

Dhindsa And his fellow pilots have to shell out close to Rs 5 lakh from their own pockets every year to participate in tournaments around the world .

And that's been the case through their careers. They probably had the best chance of being recognised at the Asiad, but they were denied the opportunity .

" The Entries (for World Championship) Have To Go Through The Aero Club Of India. I Had To Get One Day Extension, But Finally It Happened (ACI Approval)," Dhindsa Said.

Without the much-needed support from IOA And the Sports Ministry over the years, the Indian pilots have emptied their bank accounts to pursue their careers .

"Nothing," replied Dhindsa when asked if his coming Macedonia trip has received any financial help. "All funding by ourselves, once again," the man, who completed his instructor certification programme from the British Hang-gliding And Paragliding Association (BHPA), said .

The Sponsorship Prospects For The Pilots Also Remain Bleak For This Niche Sport, Which Has An Additional Tag Or An 'adventure Sport'.

"Over like 15 years of competing, I have received sponsorship of maybe Rs 3-4 lakh in total from different sources. That's why my bank account is zero (smiles). The only thing I have achieved is competing And funding my daughter's education," said Dhindsa, who has six podium finishes worldwide to his credit.

To Participate In The Coming World Championships, The Pilots Will Need A Minimum Of Rs 2 Lakh Each To Travel.

"Registration fee is 500 euros, then there is air fare of around Rs 60,000. Staying there for 2-3 weeks (will cost) another Rs 1 lakh. The event is of two weeks, so if you want to practice as well, you need to go a week in advance," Dhindsa, who hails from Punjab, said .

The Paragliding Equipment, Which Needs To Be Upgraded Every Few Years, To Participate In Competitions, A Bigger Hole In The Pocket.

"The equipment for a world championship should be the best. I have a new wing but it's not fully competitive. The wing itself costs about 4000 euros, then harness And other things included, the total amount goes up to 6000 to 7000 euros," the 53 year-old Dhindsa said.

It's only passion for the sport, that despite unheard complaints drives Dhindsa And his mates. And they are once again ready to get on with it And feel the wind beneath their clipped wings.