Kayaking, an inclusive sport
Kayaking, an inclusive sport
Kayaking is a sport that has been inclusive for people with disabilities for decades, in France. This has been possible not only because it is a very adaptable sport, but also because of efforts by the French government to incentivize the development of inclusive sporting activities.
For several years now, kayaking has been an inclusive sport. Competitive practice for inclusive kayaking is managed internationally. In many countries, the inclusive version of the sport is still managed by the regular kayaking federation. This is the case in France as well.
However, in France, an inclusive program has been in place since the 1990s. It has simultaneously working on developing technical adaptations and experimental practicing, while collecting content to develop the training of clubs’ sport instructors. This work was done in a collaborative fashion with the medical community.
The development of an inclusive kayaking program has been possible because the French state has developed strong incentives for the practice of inclusive sport in the recent years. Since January 2017, it has recognized the rights of 12 sport federations to internally develop the inclusive sports for people with disabilities.
Further, several financial schemes have also been devised to facilitate the development of inclusive sports. For example, hiring people trained as development officers at the departmental level has been promoted.
Kayaking is a relatively easy sport to include people with disabilities, as it is easily adaptable. Even before establishing any inclusive program, many people with disabilities were already practicing the sport. Having found appropriate and easy adaptations, they practiced in the same way as other kayakers.
Further, kayaking can also be a lucrative sport, by generating profits on tourist sites. These profits can then be used to facilitate the evolution of inclusive practice. Family members and athletes with disabilities can then help develop an inclusive kayaking site at places that have not yet become fully adaptable.
While all these developments have been made, the number of people with disabilities in sport has not increased at the rate expected. This can be due to a range of issues, including:
- The perception of sports as being risky
- The perception that sports are not accessible for people with disabilities
- The reluctance of some club instructors to welcome people with disabilities, due to a lack of knowledge or will
There are many more moves that can be made to develop inclusive sports for people with disabilities, including:
- Making sports inclusive in schools, and allowing children with disabilities to play sports from a young age
- Improving the links between disability-friendly structures and clubs that can accommodate people with disabilities
- Communicating stories of successful experiences
Further, there are many good practices that should be following by organizations wanting to make sports more inclusive, such as:
- Make equipment accessible to as many people as possible. In the case of kayaking and nautical clubs, this means ensuring access to water, and making wide and stable kayaks for people with disabilities or overweight people
- Clearly identify a volunteer at the club who is a reference point for people with disabilities and their families
- Clearly define the role of this volunteer referent and the ways in which they will be able to help the athletes and their families
- Include people with disabilities gradually and individually into the club, through adapted practice periods
Yann le Carrer has been a leader of the inclusive kayaking program in France, and served as a volunteer between 1991 and 2003. Currently, he is the head of classification for the French Canoe Federation and a technical classifier for the International Canoe Federation.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]