Turkish Airlines EMPOWERING league, a milestone in adaptive sport
In a recent skype conversation with Nicolai Zeltinger, the Head Coach of the German male wheelchair basketball team and the Coach of the RSV Lahn-Dill, the German, we learned how big is wheelchair basketball in Germany: “Here people, when say, they are going to watch basketball game, they refer to wheelchair basketball because the quality of the game is so high and it so entertaining that people really enjoy watching it”.
The conversation with Nicolai was part of virtual “road show” undertaken by Arthur Castro Smith that is working to spread the message of the incoming 2nd edition of the Turkish Airlines EMPOWERING League, a competitive wheelchair basketball championship here in Nepal.
In his capacity as League Out Reach Coordinator, Arthur, has been reaching out hundreds of wheelchair basketball teams, federations and not for profits, asking for advices, new insights and general support to run the upcoming League.
The outreach effort has been hugely inspirational as we could learn from people like Nicolai and understand how wheelchair basketball can reach the highest levels if an enabling environment is created.
This is the mission of ENGAGE, a local not for profit based in Kathmandu that is working to support the process of self-empowerment of youths living with physical disabilities.
The League is central to ENGAGE’s work to promote social inclusion of people with disabilities, that while embrace sport for their physical and mental wellbeing, are also projecting, among the wider society, a new understanding of disability.
While sport playing, in our case, wheelchair basketball, is seen as a developmental tool, at the same time, we realized that we can develop the game in a very competitive way, not just as an awareness platform on disabilities but also as a real discipline that deserves respect.
No doubts that there is a big potential to develop the sport in the country as only in the Kathmandu Valley there are six male teams and four female teams and every year, several tournaments are held outside the capital as the interest for the game is increasing day by day.
At the same time at the foundations of the sport is a volunteering coaching program where fifteen local youths, most of them studying at undergraduate level and all basketball players, commit themselves to a rigorous training program before being assigned, as ENGAGEA Sport Coaches, i.e. ESCs, to a local wheelchair basketball club within the Kathmandu Valley that is partnering with ENGAGE.
Thanks to the skills and passion of Bijay Lama and Sandesh Tamang, two of our ESCs, their wheelchair basketball teams, are showing great improvement.
Among our coaches we have also National level female players like Rashmita Kadkha, Soni Thapa and Sweeta Tamang who simply love basketball and despite their young age, are doing a terrific job as coaches of their women’ teams.
Obviously there are mountains of challenges in running such programs, including the fact that all the teams are hosted, for their regular training, by local schools whose courts are most of the time used by their students.
Moreover, the traditional two days weekend is reduced to only one free day, Saturday with the consequence that is it not easy for our ENGAGE Sport Coaches to find time to train their teams.
Despite the limitations, we are trying our best to invest on the quality of the coaching and make it more and more professional.
Right now we are exploring the idea of raising the level of the ENGAGE Sport Coaches with a two tiers system where senior coaches, in exchange, of a small allowance, would give more time and teach and groom a new cadre of junior coaches.
The Turkish Airlines EMPOWERING League is key to develop, promote and showcase all these efforts.
We were very lucky in having a strategic partner like Turkish Airlines that since the beginning has been supporting the League not only financially but also with strategic advice.
Moreover behind the League, there is a network of partnering organizations, including the Ministry of Youths and Sport, several business houses and the Embassy of Switzerland.
International exposure of national players is also very important. For example, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation supported ENGAGE to select a small delegation of female players to attend a clinic held in Thailand in April.
We all know that only through collaborations of this kind, we can ensure that the wheelchair basketball in Nepal and elsewhere can grow the “German’s way”.
While we are building the foundations and ensure long term financial viability of the League, we know that for the over hundred athletes participating in the League from May 27th to July 1st, only the sky will be the limit and the future of wheelchair basketball in Nepal is certainly bright.