IOC Young Leader Tania Lee is hoping to make sports leadership more inclusive

As IOC Young Leader Tania Lee explains in the latest episode of the We Have a Goal podcast hosted by Amy Purdy, she is currently developing a project to help empower athletes with disabilities. Here, she reveals more about the inspiration behind the project and what she hopes to achieve.

IOC Young Leaders IOC Young Leaders

In the latest episode of the We Have a Goal podcast series, produced in collaboration with Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic, host and three-time Paralympic medallist Amy Purdy talks to three IOC Young Leaders about using sport to improve inclusion in society.

Tania Lee is among the guests, discussing how the IOC Young Leaders programme is supporting her to launch her Inclusive Leadership Programme “iLEAP”, which focuses specifically on athletes with disabilities developing leadership skills through sport.

A passion for sport

For many athletes, their first steps into the world of sport are influenced by their family, who inspire them to join in with activities that they already love and participate in. That was certainly the case for Lee, who, when growing up in Malaysia, was urged to begin swimming by her father, though for much more practical reasons.

“My dad wanted all of us to learn survival skills so that we could go on holiday to the beach,” she reveals. “For many developed countries, sport is part of everyday life, but that’s not really the case in Malaysia. My dad was in the Air Force, though, and understood the importance of sport, so our holidays always included some kind of fun sporting activity. Swimming is one of those important skills, so he wanted us to learn how to be confident in the water and I loved it, so I continued afterwards.”

This passion for swimming followed Lee through to her time at university, where she also began to understand the importance of leadership and how that could be developed through sport. Indeed, having been first introduced to swimming to ensure she had the necessary survival skills, she went on to become President of the Lifesaving and Swimming Association at her university, which eventually presented her with the opportunity to join the National Olympic Academy and then the 2014 International Olympic Academy session in Greece.

Inclusive Leadership Programme – iLEAP

These experiences helped give Lee a greater understanding of the Olympic values and the goal of Olympism to build a better world through sport. Then, while working with the Malaysian Olympism in Action Society and thanks to the support of a dedicated working committee, she brought her ideas and experiences together to establish her own project, the Inclusive Leadership Programme, iLEAP. Focusing primarily on inclusion of people with disabilities, the programme aims to ensure not only that they are able to access more opportunities in sport, but also that they are able to develop leadership qualities as athletes and fully understand how those skills can be used in wider society.

“In Malaysia, there are many people with very good leadership qualities but there're not many opportunities  available to develop those skills,” explains Lee. “Athletes learn so much through sport, but the skills, knowledge and values were not being properly harnessed. We aren’t taught how these transferable skills can be used in life outside of sport or in a career. That's why we wanted to create the leadership programme so that, hopefully, these athletes will realise that their experiences as athletes can help in their future careers.”

While in the early stages of developing her project, Lee was made aware of the IOC Young Leaders programme, which provides together with its Founding Partner, Panasonic,  budding social entrepreneurs with mentorship, learning opportunities and seed-funding to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities.

“The IOC Young Leaders programme came at just the right time because we had already begun planning part of our project,” explains Lee. “The programme has already taught me so much in terms of personal branding, marketing, how to help your community and how to plan your project. Everyone has been really supportive. In terms of building the project itself, we had an idea, but I think it's more structured and sustainable now. Learning from experts, and also the resources that we get access to, is fantastic.”

IOC Young Leaders IOC Young Leaders

Developing future sports leaders

In order to nurture competent, diverse and sustainable sports leaders, Lee has focused her project on five of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Good Health & Well Being (Goal 3), Quality Education (Goal 4), Decent Work & Economic Growth (Goal 8), Reduced Inequalities (Goal 10), Partnerships (Goal 17). The programme itself is split into four key pillars that aim to develop participants’ skills across a wide spectrum, while ensuring they receive high-quality information from experts in each field through seminars and physical activities.

“When we started, we identified four different core modules that we wanted to implement in our programme: sport values, healthy living, life skills, and social competency,” explains Lee. “I’m a dietician, so I think it’s very important for athletes to know how to take care of themselves, particularly as many athletes aren’t so conscious of their well-being once they retire. I also felt it was important to include life skills because you learn so much throughout your athletic career that can later be translated into your career outside of sport. The goal is to have professionals helping us with the programme and then having training for trainers, which would see our volunteers being either former or current athletes. We want to give them the confidence to run the programme and, later on, to teach it too.”

Adapting to new circumstances

Unfortunately, as for many in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed how the Inclusive Leadership Programme would launch. Initially, Lee planned to have the courses take place in person, with many activities, especially in the life skills section, being based on face-to-face interaction to develop key social skills that cannot be completely replicated online.

“We ran a pilot programme in December last year, but it had to take place online because we were still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she explains. “I really wanted it to be a physical session to allow more interactive activities. It's a little tough. For example, part of the life skills pillar is speaking with confidence in front of a camera or in an interview and being able to present yourself in a professional or public situation. That's something that is difficult to do online as you’re not really in public – you're just in front of the screen. One of the other things that we were planning to do was to play some of the para-sports, like wheelchair basketball to ensure exposure to para-sports.,.”

For Lee, the long-term goal for the project is to ensure that those who are willing  are given the opportunity they deserve to develop their skills in a safe space. This can be established in many ways, whether that’s ensuring a balance of participants, trying to foster more harmonious relationships with friends and family, or simply ensuring that those who might be interested can actually hear about the project.

“Our target participants are aged 15 to 17 for those without disabilities, and between 15 to 30 for athletes with disabilities. We want to have at least 30 per cent of participants from the athletes with disabilities group, and for the pilot programme last year we actually had around a 50/50 balance, which is great. Even in terms of gender, which is not our main focus, we also got a 50/50 split. My goal is really to spread awareness and offer a safe space where athletes with and without disability can interact more and learn from each other.”

IOC Young Leaders Programme

The IOC Young Leaders programme, launched in 2016, empowers talents to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities.
Related News
  • IOC Young Leaders discuss inclusion with Paralympian Amy Purdy on latest episode of We Have a Goal podcast IOC Young Leaders

    IOC Young Leaders discuss inclusion with Paralympian Amy Purdy on latest episode of We Have a Goal podcast

  • Paralympian Amy Purdy IOC Young Leaders

    Inspiring IOC Young Leaders join Paralympian Amy Purdy on latest episode of “We Have a Goal” podcast on Peace-building

  • IOC Young Leaders

    IOC Young Leader Layana de Souza is Changing the Score for women

  • IOC Young Leaders

    IOC Young Leader Christel Saneh aiming for gender balanced portrayal of athletes in the media

  • IOC Young Leaders

    IOC Young Leader Pauline Msungu wants girls in Kenya to stand up and fight for their rights

  • Gender Equality

    IOC Young Leader and Olympian Jemima Montag inspiring young women to Play On

back to top