Print Edition - 2015-04-05  |  Free the Words

Part of the game

  • Nepal has tremendous opportunities to promotes sport for people living with disabilities
- Simone Galimberti
Part of the game

Apr 4, 2015-

When the apartheid regime gave way to a multiracial South Africa, few could have imagined the role played by sport in the nation-building process by turning the country into a rainbow nation.

Yet, as portrayed in Invictus, a movie about the role Nelson Mandela played during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, where he literally rallied the entire nation behind the Springboks, the national team, a symbol of the then dominating Afrikaner minority, sports played a very important role in keeping the country together.

Such is the power and appeal of sport in creating positive outcomes at the societal level. So it should come as no surprise that back in 2013, the UN General Assembly proclaimed April 6 as International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

Tomorrow, the world celebrates sport as a great vehicle to generate prosperity, well being, and ensure inclusion.

Sports and development

It is important that a new understanding emerges about the potential contributions of sport to society—in offering meaningful and transformational opportunities and bridging divides and gaps existing within societies.

As of now, all around the world, there is an incredible wealth of initiatives centred on the transformational role of sport with the International Platform on Sport and Development, offering a vast resource centre on the best practices of the sector.

Still, focus should not only be on corporate social responsibility projects promoted by the biggest sports competitions. For instance, NBA Cares, a premier social initiative of the top basketball association in North America, or the incredible work that UEFA, the governing body of European football, is doing to promote development, peace, and harmony through football.

What I am talking about here is the work done by hundreds of not-for-profits all over the world who have made sport their main tool of change. I am also referring to the formal role that sport can play in official development assistance, greatly contributing to the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals that will soon replace the Millennium Development Goals.

The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSPD) was created to promote, coordinate, and advocate for a common approach to sport in the UN system. It is very encouraging to know that that all UN agencies have a strong footprint in using sports strategically to achieve their goals, whether it be poverty eradication, children’s wellbeing, the fight against HIV/AIDS, or urban development. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, has declared, “Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have a widespread approach. Most of all it is a powerful tool for progress and development”.

Bilateral and multilateral donors have also acknowledged the role of sport for development. Australia, for example, has a unique strategy, ‘Development through Sport’, to ensure that sport can be embedded in its official development assistance. Its second strategic outcome is of particular importance as it recognises how sport can improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Globally, the Paralympics Games have assumed more relevance and now, millions of people watch them, giving due respect and importance to the amazing achievements of athletes living with disabilities. In September, Seoul will host the IBSA World Games, a global sport initiative for visually-impaired persons, another great opportunity to highlight the power of inclusive sport.

While in Nepal

Nepal has all the potential to become an international powerhouse with regards to incorporating sport and disabilities. It is not only leading in blind cricket but wheelchair basketball is also getting more and more prominent. In November last year, the best wheelchair basketball players represented the country in the first regional competition held in Bangladesh.

Later, in December this year, an even bigger tournament, organised by the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Center, is going to be held in Nepal. At the same time, in order to lay the foundation for a strong disability sport sector, we need to cement the enabling factors that can allow disability sport, and sport more generally, to prosper in the country.

For example, attempts at amending the national legislation promoting sport in the country, an outdated piece of law that does not make any reference to disability sport, are stalled.

Currently, discussions are underway under the leadership of the Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association to set the building blocks for a disability sport federation that could group together all the non-profits involved in the sector.

Room for more

While it might take years to meet this ambitious goal, it is important to take into consideration the role played by the existing actors, including the National Paralympics Committee. Or even better, the two Paralympics Committees active in the country, one recognised by the government and the other by the International Paralympics Committee, itself an anomaly that should be resolved through compromise and negotiations.

What can be realistically done is to create a Sport for Disability Network that, as an informal group, can bring together in a neutral and impartial way, all the associations and groups promoting sport in the disability sector.

Surely, the Government of Nepal can do much more to recognise sport for development and peace, particularly in the disability sector, including redoubling its financial support to promote inclusion and the health of persons living with disabilities through sports. This new effort should be carried out with total transparency and accountability. The private sector can also certainly play a very important role in providing financial support to sport with a particular focus on disabilities.

In India, a ground-breaking publication, the Power of Play, offers a bold vision to promote sport for development and even the government is putting huge resources in the sector.

Nepal boasts incredible athletes that are not being recognised for their achievements. This is unfair and unacceptable. On the occassion of Sport Day, we should not forget that sport is for all.

Galimberti is co-founder of ENGAGE and editor of Sharing4Good

Published: 05-04-2015 09:00

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