Pushing for adaptive sports in the developing countries while pushing for their whole rights
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, marked on December 3rd, is a day to reflect on the importance to increase sport participation among persons living with disabilities. The Paralympics Game in Rio de Janeiro has been hailed as a great success and after the groundbreaking games in London, a real game changer in the field of adaptive sport, significant momentum has been achieved, paving the way for a mainstreaming of inclusive sports practices globally.
How can we ensure that the recent gains in the field, normally seen only through the prism of TV audience and attendance to the games every four years, actually are translated in practical actions in countries that are still lagging behind when we talk about implementing disability rights?
We are living in an era of extremes and this also apply to adaptive sports: if on the one hand we have cutting edge institutions like the Disability Resource Center at University of Arizona or the Center for Sport Leadership at Commonwealth University of Virginia or the Center for Sport, Peace and Society at University of Tennessee, then, on the opposite spectrum, we have stories like the ones of Laxmi Kunwar, a para swimmer from Nepal who had to fight against all the odds to be at Rio de Janeiro. This is not an isolate incident as many of the athletes representing developing countries at Para Olympics had to struggle a lot to be there and many more could not even make it to the games.
Certainly is not a coincidence that all three institutions above mentioned are USA based where the Americans with Disability Act, ADA, a legislation that goes back to 1990, was a real turning point that drastically improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities.
The point I am trying to make here is that advances on adaptive sport practices can only be ensured if we have in place a “system” that recognizes the rights of persons living with disabilities as a whole, acknowledging their vast and yet untapped potential.
We need to have in place a set of policies, legislation that advances the overall rights of all persons with disabilities. We need their effective implementation on the ground; we need effective and truly inclusive educational scholarship for youths with disabilities.
We all know that educational institutions, whose effectiveness in many part of the developing world, is at least doubtful, are the greatest vehicle for social mobility. It is not a case that the three institutions I mentioned earlier are distinguished and well known universities.
At the same time, I recognize that many, discouraged on the complexities of doing “politics” all over the world, in developed and emerging nations alike, might feel the “urge” of moving ahead, in a tactical thinking that see progressive, incremental changes attainable only if we focus and concentrate on developing adaptive sports, while we can wait for major pieces of legislation to come into existence.
The approach can make sense provided that we link it up to a broader conversation about disabilities in the developing countries. A big push on one side can help achieve the bigger goal! In Nepal for example, after a long gestation, the National Disability Sports Network Nepal whose secretariat is based at the Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sport Association, NSCISA, a not for profit, has been created thanks to the financial support of Danish Sports Organization for Disabled, with the National Paralympics Committee (the one officially recognized by the Government of Nepal as there is still another committee recognized by the International Paralympics Committee) member.
The Network has an ambitious program ahead in terms of advocacy with the aim of having in place a stronger policy framework for athletes living with disabilities and ensuring a stronger support of the Government to develop the movement. At the same time it aims at reinforcing practices at ground level by supporting its members’ activities locally.
What is happening here is very encouraging but at the same time, in Nepal as well as in other developing countries, we need to ensure that while we focus on lobbying for recognition of adaptive sports, we also need to work hard to mainstream the sector within the broader disability movement at national and local levels.
After all adaptive sports should not be seen as a niche within a niche but rather it can be leveraged to create awareness and reach out constituencies that can support the creation of more inclusive, disable friendly societies.
Imagine if we build an audience, not simply composed by friends and family members of persons with disabilities, social workers and NGOs’ folks but made by a public of students, their parents and their close family friends. Imagine if national newspapers initiate a new conversation about disabilities through the prism of sport.
Corporate houses have an incredible opportunity here not just for the sake of corporate social responsibility but because they will realize they have so far missed out on potential customers and future employees. By blending activism to support adaptive sports with the overall efforts on disabilities rights, we can also find the not always easy balance between a quest for sport excellence and a boost on inclusive sports practices as developmental tools.
Athletes like Laxmi can be better prepared and better supported for the next big event while at the same time countries like Nepal can cherish not only new and more comprehensive set of legislations fulfilling the rights of persons with disabilities but most importantly a change in the mindset of the people in regards to it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Peace and Sport Watch are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Peace and Sport.