Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Disabled athletes have come a long way over the years fighting different forms of stigma, discrimination and segregation in society.
While many of these athletes are making Fiji proud in their respective sporting events, others simply want to live a normal life like any other able bodied person.
For the Fiji Paralympics Association, promoting the inclusion of disabled people in able bodied regular school sports is one of the aims of the organisation.
Formerly the Fiji Sports Association for the Disabled, the organisation is looking at inclusive education through inclusive sports for people with disabilities.
One of the programs launched by the association this year is the inclusive sports program whose main funding agency is the Australian Sports Commission.
The program involves disabled sports ambassadors going out into different schools promoting the inclusion of disabled people in able bodied school sports.
The national organisation coordinates and implements local and overseas sporting activities for its affiliates.
This is also aimed at enhancing the quality of life of people with disabilities through exposure and international contacts enabling them to live as fully anticipating members of the society.
Sports development officer for the association Saimoni Nainoca believes there is a need for more disabled athletes to be involved in school sports events.
He said approval for awareness and advocacy in schools was given by the Ministry of Education.
Mr Nainoca said it was the first time for the program to be implemented at school level.
Mr Nainoca went to Levuka Public School last week with two disabled sports ambassadors to promote inclusive sports for the disabled.
"We have a number of programs and one of it is this inclusive sports program. We also have a separate program called Sports Ambassador. My role as the sports development officer is to provide sporting opportunities on a daily basis for over 1000 disabled people in the country. This inclusive sports program aims to promote inclusive education through inclusive sports for disabled people.
"We will be knocking at the doors of regular schools and some of them have opened their doors to include this into the mainstream sports and regular school activities. One of the main purposes is to break away from the different forms of segregation and discrimination. Instead, we are aiming for disabled students and adults to be included in sports events for able bodied people."
Mr Nainoca said the purpose of targeting schools was to get children and teachers to accept disabled people or athletes into the school curriculum.
He said part of their awareness and advocacy strategies was providing examples of how disabled athletes can participate in able bodied sports including track and field events.
This is where the sports ambassadors come in. Mr Nainoca said sports ambassadors for the association are disabled athletes who have represented Fiji at international competitions.
"During our visit to LPS, I was accompanied by two sports ambassadors, Iliesa Delana (who had his left leg amputated) and Necani Ravutu (who had his right arm amputated).
"The sports ambassadors showed students at LPS how disabled people could participate in sports events like athletics and high jump.
"In front of 600 students, teachers and parents, the two disabled athletes gave demonstrations.
"The most exciting performance was from Iliesa who competed in the high jump against one of the top athletes from LPS. He beat the student with a high jump of 1.70 meters.
"After the demonstrations, we asked the students, teachers and parents to vote on whether they think disabled people should be included in able bodied school sports.
"They all raised their hands in agreement. This was the reaction we wanted to achieve and we did. It was a very motivating atmosphere especially from the children. Their response was very positive." He said the next step would be to create more awareness and advocacy work on the program to different schools in the west in conjunction with special education schools nearby.
In the case of LPS, the association will also provide financial assistance if students from Norah Fraser Special Education School will participate in sports events organised by LPS.
Mr Nainoca was happy with the performance of the disabled sports ambassadors and believes the positive outcome of the program was something he anticipated.
He said the onus would be on the school's organising committee, management and children to accept the fact that people with disabilities can participate in sports events for able bodied people.
"This is the first time we are going out into the community with this program and with funding from our overseas counterpart, the Australian Sports Commission national representatives will be able to go out to special education schools, regular schools and communities and share their experiences and the impact of sports in their lives. The sports ambassadors are promoting sports for disabled people.
"Many disabled people are not good academically and some of them look at sports as a window of opportunities.
"With sports, disabled people and athletes are able to travel and find employment.
"Sports even builds a person's character. Sports has helped a lot of disabled athletes break away from discrimination and stigmatisation. There are 20 sports ambassadors."
Disabled sports ambassador Iliesa Delana has nine gold medals from different competitions he has participated in.
He has never lost a competition and believes his experience in Levuka was the best way to put talk into action.
Starting off his high jump skill in late 2000, Iliesa felt happy and confident that he was able to beat one of the athletes from LPS in the high jump.
For Iliesa, it is no use talking about the need to include disabled people in sports events.
He believes actions speak louder than words.
"I competed against an able bodied athlete from the school and even though I felt nervous, I was confident in my abilities and I was able to beat the other athlete in the high jump.
"The best way to show why disabled athletes should be included in school sports or able bodied sports is to show them what disabled athletes can do.
"The reaction from the spectators was a happy moment especially when it showed the support from these people.
"Some of them have come up to me in town just to shake my hand and I feel very proud and happy. I have a total of nine gold medals, no silver, no bronze. The secret to winning is there is no secret. It is using whatever God given talent one has to the best of their ability."
Some benefits of the inclusion of disabled athletes in sports as identified by the Australian Sports Commission include:
- Reduced need for extra or specialist coaches where in most sports there is a shortage of reliable and committed coaches. Inclusion helps to reduce the search for specialist coaches;
- Social benefits where inclusion can enable athletes with disabilities access to the same social benefits available to any other athlete from participating in sport. This includes the opportunity to mix and develop friendships within the athlete's local sporting environment. The inclusion with able bodied peers can also serve to reinforce or increase socially accepted behaviour;
n Peer group pressure where inclusion can allow athletes to train in larger groups which may also lead to greater motivation and increased self discipline as a result of peer group pressure;
- Increased self esteem for athletes with disabilities; and
- Access to established organisations where the disabled athletes will have greater access to better facilities and equipment.
Accordingly, the association is also concerned with the inclusion of athletes who are visually impaired, amputee athletes, intellectually disabled, hearing impaired, spinal injured athletes and les autres or other disabilities.
The association is also committed to developing sports for disabled athletes from the grassroot, national, regional and international level.