Rania Rahardja: fencing for inclusion

Rania Rahardja, a 2018-2020 IOC Young Leader from Singapore, launched wheelchair fencing in her home country. She now hopes to take her athletes to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.

Rania Rahardja

Tell us about your background and experience.

My name is Rania and I'm from Singapore. I am a YOG Athlete who took part in fencing in the Youth Olympic Games Singapore 2010.

And I am a proud member of the IOC Young Leaders Programme 2018-2020.

I picked up fencing in 2008, made my national team in 2009 and won Singapore’s first gold medal at the Asian Cadet Championship the same year. This helped me to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). Taking part in such a big international competition was unexpected and special, competing on my home ground. It exposed me for the first time to many different people from various cultures.

Returning to the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, this time in a different capacity, allowed me to appreciate the efforts that go into organising the Games and enabled me to even better understand the Olympic values. I served as a mentor to the athletes and helped them to get the most out of the Games experience, helping them understand that the YOG are not just about the competition, but also about embodying the values of friendship and respect.

What has sport given you?

Sport has allowed me to learn more about myself, about other people and what it means to belong to a community. As an athlete, I developed perseverance, discipline and time management. I also understood what teamwork meant, having to work with my coach, my teammates and the wider support staff.  

What does the IOC Young Leaders Programme mean for you, and what did you take from it?

When I became an IOC Young Leader, I understood that sport was about so much more than just the benefits on an individual level. Sport is a platform which can enable social change and foster development within and across countries.

I also understood the power of network and community, and the support we can give each other.

I represented the IOC Young Leaders Programme as a speaker at the Global Social Business Summit, hosted by Professor Muhammad Yunus, and at the Peace and Sport Forum sponsored by HSH Prince Albert II.

These summits got me even more interested in the topic of sport and social development, leading me to pursue a two-year part-time master’s degree in Social Innovation.

What is the story and the objective behind your IOC Young Leaders project?

Through my sports-related social project, I decided to introduce wheelchair fencing in Singapore. I was inspired by my time in the UK, where wheelchair fencers would train together with able-bodied fencers and were fully integrated into our training programme, creating an inclusive environment.

Inspired by this experience, I believed that Singapore should also give people with disabilities an opportunity to try wheelchair fencing. I also found out that there had been initial efforts to introduce this initiative, but these had never materialised.

I continued to work with the local stakeholders, including my local fencing federation and Singapore Disability Sports Council, for wheelchair fencing to be featured in several sports day events, finally reaching over a hundred participants.

Fencing Singapore became an Inclusive Sports Federation in 2020 and is now officially managing this programme.

My long-term vision is for Singapore to be represented in wheelchair fencing at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, but our primary goal remains ensuring the continuity of the sport.

We’re facing some challenges with COVID-19 due to reduced capacity in fencing halls and ability of participants to travel, but I do believe in the longer-term sustainability of wheelchair fencing, given that it is in the good hands of local organisations who are best placed to ensure its success.

How have the IOC and Panasonic supported your project?

The IOC Young Leaders Programme and Panasonic invested in me to launch a sports-related social project.

Through their support I was granted a total of CHF 8,000 over two years, which I used to purchase wheelchairs for my fencing programme.

Panasonic also invited me to Japan three times, twice to Tokyo and once to Osaka. In my first visit, I visited a local school and gave a talk about my project to children with disabilities, and we also made a short film together.

The other two times were for the IOC Youth Summit in Tokyo and the Kids Witness News programme in Osaka.

I also had the chance to visit Panasonic’s headquarters and their museum. I was particularly struck by Panasonic’s philosophy, “the path”, which explains that each of us has a path that is ours and ours alone to follow, which really resonated with me.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I hope to see the continuity of wheelchair fencing and remain actively involved in the IOC Young Leaders Programme. I’d also like to focus on completing my master’s degree and take the lessons I learned in this journey into my day-to-day job.

Today more than ever we need change agents and people who are hopeful. A lot of people start out with great ideas and energy, but it can be easy for the enthusiasm to fade when you face challenges on the way. It is important to remember why you set out to do what you want to do, and be realistic in adapting your expectations along the way, if need be.

It is also important not to be afraid to ask for help, and that’s why a community and a strong support network are so important.

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