Disabled sports

  • It is high time we started playing hard ball to make the country more open, diverse and just for the disabled
- Simone Galimberti

Jan 28, 2016-

The countdown for the biggest sport carnival in the world, the Olympic games, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro this summer, has officially started. It is going to be an amazing display of the best sports talents.

The Olympic games will probably witness some amazing new records from Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Basketball lovers are curious to know how easy it will be for the American Dream Team to win the gold medal again. We will also see whether the Australian swimmer Matthew “Matt” John Cowdrey will break new records. The British sprinter Hannah Lucy Cockroft will again try to win the gold medal in the running tracks. It is interesting that these two athletes, who are as stellar as Usain Bolt, and the members of the Dream Team, are, for some reasons, not very well known to the global audience.

To dispel any doubts, they are not among the thousands of unsung sport heroes who made it to the games without much glory and fame, thanks to their unflinching determination and brilliant sports qualities.  They are top athletes with an amazing career already. But unlike other sport stars, they will not make the headlines. One might wonder why. The answer is simple and straight: Cowdrey and Cockroft represent a niche called Paralympics that are still behind the more ‘mainstreamed’ and known Olympic games in terms of popularity.

Making it equal

On principle, while competing in the games, all athletes are equal and what counts most is sharing and embracing in the fullest sense the spirit of fraternity, humanity and togetherness. Yet the wide gap still existing between the Olympic and Paralympics games proves that we only pay lip service to the ideals of equality and fairness. And unfortunately, too few steps are being taken to bridge this gap.

But this can change by creating awareness and taking a more businesslike approach to inclusive sports. Talking about awareness, children, teenagers and young adults, when embracing sports at school or college, should be encouraged to push themselves to try and practise a sport on a wheelchair or blindfolded.

I can assure you that it is not only very demanding but also extremely fun. Teachers and principals should set aside their skepticism and try this. Inclusive sports practices among persons without disabilities can have a transformative impact on the way society thinks and relates to the issues of disability.

Sports can bring people from different walks of life together, allowing, for example, young adults living with disabilities, to forge new friendships with peers without disabilities. Here we are not talking only of disability sports; instead we have the opportunity to help vulnerable groups integrate into the mainstream society.

Sports for development

In the case of Nepal, no development actors have been focusing on sport as a strategic approach to bring transformative changes in local communities. There is almost no one using sport as a developmental tool. It might be so because of the fact that sport-based development activities are hard to quantify and outcomes and related indicators are difficult to be extrapolated, making it challenging to assess and evaluate their impact. Another reason might be that sport for development is still too much of a fringe idea. With standards and conventional approach prevailing, there is a lack of knowledge about the subject.

Perhaps donors, wary of the complexities and difficulties of the sector, prefer playing safe and stay in their comfort zones. Certainly, risk-taking has not gained wider currency in the development sector and possibly this is one of the reasons why development often fails.

Yet awareness alone is not enough and  money can be the game changer. We need to think of Paralympics games and other inclusive sports events in terms of entertainment business. Despite the latest scandals in the sport world and the interplay of greed and corruption, we know that only with high level events where sponsors and media are massively involved and where public relations agencies reign can we think and plan of a different vision to develop inclusive sports in Nepal.

In the case of Nepal, there are all the ingredients: A donor community that could seize the opportunity to do something fresh and innovative, progressive media striving for social justice and banks still making good money despite the difficult political scenario. The Ministry of Education backed up by some donors, for example, could try a pilot programme of inclusive sports classes in the national curriculum under the extracurricular category. Our Paralympics sport athletes could volunteer as teachers and resource persons.

No doubt the national sports system and supporting ‘infrastructure’ are still fragile, weak and politicised, but it will be hard to stop a wave of enthusiasm that the Paralympics and Olympics games of Rio could generate back in Nepal. After all, it is high time we started playing hard ball to make the country more open, diverse and just for the disabled.

Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE and editor of Sharing4good

Published: 28-01-2016 10:04

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