By transcending cultural, social and linguistic barriers, sport provides a powerful and unique platform to promote and showcase inclusion. Yet many people living with a disability still face discrimination, bias and other challenges that limit their ability to enjoy the benefits and opportunities that sport can provide.
This is an issue that is explored in the latest episode of the “We Have a Goal” podcast series, produced in conjunction with Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic, and hosted by Paralympian Amy Purdy.
Sport to foster inclusion
At the age of 19, Purdy contracted meningococcal meningitis and had to have both of her legs amputated below the knee. But despite being given just a two per cent chance of survival, the American went on to become a three-time Paralympic medallist in snowboarding, and is now acutely aware of sport’s ability to foster inclusion and empower those living with a disability.
She is joined in this episode by three inspiring IOC Young Leaders – Paniz Yousefi (Sweden), Omar Bassyouni (Egypt) and Tania Lee (Malasia). The IOC Young Leaders programme – supported by its Founding Partner Panasonic – is an initiative that provides budding social entrepreneurs with seed funding, learning opportunities and mentorship to launch projects that leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. Yousefi, Bassyouni and Lee are each focusing on inclusion as the main issue they are hoping to address with their social projects. And for Purdy, inclusion programmes such as these can be a vital tool to introduce people living with a disability to sport, provided they address their participants in the right way.
“When I first lost my legs, I wanted to get involved in different types of sports, but the names of the programmes would actually kind of turn me off a little bit,” she reveals. “Sometimes it was like ‘Disabled Sports’, and it was really heavily focused on the disability. And I thought, ‘Well, that doesn't feel like me. I just want to play sports. I just want to play sports with everybody else’.”
Programmes that truly make a difference
In this episode, Yousefi, Bassyouni and Lee each discuss how they are hoping to avoid such pitfalls and make a genuine impact by using sport to help foster greater inclusion for those living with disabilities.
Yousefi, for instance, launched Parallel Play in her native Sweden to support the inclusion of people with disabilities by allowing them to become champions in the accessible sport of badminton. Her goal is to establish training groups for athletes with different disabilities in existing badminton clubs and she has already seen the impact the programme is having.
“Our first competition was very mixed – we had standing players, wheelchair players – and it was so cool to actually see how happy they were that they were actually able to compete and feel like, ‘I can do this,’” she explains. “We had one player, I think she was 60-something, and she was almost crying. She told me that she felt so included in the sport, in the competition, because when she was young, she was always told that she cannot do anything because she has a disability. And she said, ‘For the first time, I didn't think that I had one.’ And that's exactly what I want.”
Bassyouni, meanwhile, was inspired by his work as a development manager at the International Table Tennis Federation to establish a table tennis academy in his native Egypt for people with disabilities, providing them with the opportunity to practise the sport in a safe and accessible environment.
“It all started in 2015, when I was first involved in para table tennis and I had the opportunity to travel to the African Para Table Tennis Championships,” he explains. “This experience impacted me so much. I have seen how sport can empower people, how can it change their lives, how can it raise awareness, and most importantly, how it can fulfill the dreams of so many individuals. I had this chance to see how athletes with disabilities overcome all the challenges and difficulties they have, and successfully made the most of their life. This is what I'm trying to provide for people in my community as well.”
Similarly, Lee is aiming to make an impact in her native Malaysia through her Inclusive Leadership Programme, which focuses primarily on inclusivity for people with disabilities, aiming to ensure not only that they are able to access more opportunities in sport, but also that they are able to develop their leadership qualities as athletes and fully understand how those skills can be used in wider society.
“I hope that, through this programme, when the athletes join the programme and they benefit from it, they can tell people … And hopefully this can help other people to realise that, "Hey, if I have kids with disability, I have to give myself and my kid the confidence that they can do it too’,” explains Lee. “In Malaysia, if a parent has a kid with a certain disability, they feel that they don't have the confidence that their child is able to succeed in life. So this is one of the messages that I hope to bring out as well.”
It is a message that Purdy fully supports, knowing first-hand about the positive impact sport can have.
“Everybody can learn and grow from each other, and then that kind of impacts the way society views people with disability,” she says. “If there are opportunities for people with disabilities, then maybe even the parents will start to have even bigger dreams for their children who have disabilities. So it kind of impacts all of society.”
We Have a Goal is a four-episode podcast series supported by Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic, hosted by Paralympian and motivational speaker Amy Purdy who talks to IOC Young Leaders about their own journeys and how they’re driving change in the areas of gender equality, peace building, inclusion and sustainability.
To hear more about the unique power of sport as a tool for peace and development, you can listen to the latest episode of the “We Have a Goal” podcast on Olympics.com.
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