By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2019 – The power of sport can help make global sustainable development a reality, and such power transcends cultural, linguistic and even physical barriers.
In recent years, disabled athletes have gained greater visibility—an essential step in recognising their talent, abilities, and importance.
In December, the United Nations General Assembly formally recognised the power of sport as an “enabler” of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the “invaluable contribution” of the Paralympic Movement in promoting peace, development, and greater inclusion.
“[The Resolution] reaffirms the universality of sport and its unifying power to foster peace, education, gender equality and sustainable development at large,” International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) President Thomas Bach said.
“Thanks to the UN, we now have a strong tool that encourages states and sports organisations to work together and develop concrete best practices,” he added.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed reiterated these sentiments recently, noting the important role that sport has played in all societies throughout history.
“Sport can help promote tolerance and respect, contribute to the empowerment of women and young people, and advance health, education and social inclusion,” she said on the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
“Let us intensify our shared efforts to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and truly recognise the power of sport to change the lives of individuals, communities, countries and beyond,” Mohammed added.
Just last week, a campaign by the International Paralympic Committee was awarded with the UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Award.
The ‘Transforming Lives Makes Sense for Everyone’ campaign features three short films which reveal the impact of the London 2012 Paralympic Games on employment for persons with disabilities which, in the United Kingdom, grew by nearly one million since June 2013.
The group also found that one in three people in the UK changed their attitude towards disability thanks to the London games.
However, such work starts at the grassroots level.
In Nepal, the National Women’s Blind Cricket Team won the First International Women’s Blind Cricket Series held in Pakistan in February 2019, proving that women with disabilities can be successful competitive athletes.
“People living with disabilities often undermine their ability to play sports due to mobility restrictions and negative stereotypes and perceptions towards people living with disabilities. But despite these challenges, my team and I persisted,” said team captain Bhagwati Bhattarai-Baral.
“I feel proud to have represented my country in an international platform. It has also boosted my confidence and sense of leadership. People in my community have now started believing that blind players are as capable as anyone else. If provided with opportunities, women and girls with disabilities can also demonstrate competence,” she added.
Similarly, at the age of 12, Mohamed Mohasin’s passion for cricket grew as he started playing the sport with his classmates, despite having had polio as an infant which damaged his legs.
The sight of a batter in a wheelchair often drew his local community of Morkun in Bangladesh to watch him play.
Mohasin’s ambition did not stop there. Since wheelchair cricket players are excluded from Paralympic cricket, he asked himself, “Why not start a wheelchair cricket team?”
After a long road full of obstacles, including lack of funding and misperceptions, Mohasin finally established the Wheelchair Cricket Welfare Association Bangladesh (WCWAB) in 2010 and became the captain of the National Wheelchair Cricket Team to help ensure the participation of physically challenged youth as well as to showcase their talents.
“Earlier the scenario was too difficult as people very rarely imagined that the disabled can play outdoor games in Bangladesh. But we have proved through wheelchair cricket that this is possible,” Mohasin said.
“Things are now changing, and we are getting lots of interested people and players,” he added.
The team, which was formed with 26 players, has grown exponentially to around 200 players, 170 of whom are registered wheelchair cricketers.
They organised the first ever National Wheelchair Cricket Tournament in Bangladesh in 2016, and have since participated in major tournaments such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) International Cricket Tournament in Bangladesh, Asia Cup in India, and won the Taj Mahal Trophy in 2014 as well as the International Bilateral Wheelchair T20 Cricket Series. Young Bangla, the largest youth forum in Bangladesh, also recognised Mohasin and WCWAB as one of the top 10 youth initiatives in the country.
Despite obstacles, Bhattarai-Baral and Mohasin both continue to inspire others and promote a future where disabled persons are recognised.