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Nepal’s first virtual wheelchair basketball championship

Nepal’s first virtual wheelchair basketball championship

ICRC in Nepal, in collaboration with ENGAGE, have launched an innovative virtual wheelchair basketball championship, to promote adaptive sport in a safe and appropriate manner during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a successful experiment last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is once again working to promote the physical and psycho-social wellbeing of persons with disabilities in Nepal, with a special focus on those with spinal injuries and limited mobility.

The “Fit & Healthy, No Matter What” program, run in 2020, was an attempt to engage and involve persons with disabilities during the first lockdown, through a series of online activities. These activities consisted of Zumba classes, fitness sessions, leadership discussions and more. This year, ICRC in Nepal is delivering the first ever Virtual Wheelchair Basketball Championship in the country, to help wheelchair basketball players rekindle their love for the game.

For this championship, ICRC is once again collaborating with ENGAGE, a local not-for-profit working at the intersections of inclusive youth development through volunteerism and sports. Through the championship, the two organizations aim to reconnect adaptive sports athletes to wheelchair basketball, after more than a year of inactivity due to the pandemic.

At the launch ceremony, held of 24 August, Mr. Sandesh Shrestha, the head of the ICRC mission in Nepal, remarked: “ICRC has witnessed a progressive journey of wheelchair basketball over the years in Nepal where the players from various clubs have engaged in friendly and formal matches and learning sessions.” The championship builds on the momentum created by ICRC around the world to promote wheelchair basketball as an effective tool to help persons with spinal injuries to strengthen their rehabilitation journey and find a way back to the society.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which concluded recently, highlighted the importance of creating the conditions at the grassroots level for adaptive players to be able to exercise and stay fit while also striving for excellence, so that they can bring their skills and know-how towards higher levels.

This is what ICRC has been doing worldwide, where wheelchair basketball players and coaches, including some from Nepal, are getting the opportunity to hone their wheelchair basketball skills and techniques, thanks to ICRC’s online courses. With renowned Canadian coaches Paul Bowes and Joe Higgins delivering the classes, this capacity building training can dramatically enhance the performances of the athletes.

ICRC believes that sport is an important part of social inclusion. And this year, because of COVID, we decided to do this virtually because your life and safety matters. Worldwide as well, we can see that countries like the US and Canada have conducted sport events virtually and the pandemic did not stop them from engaging in sport either. So, let’s adapt to this unprecedented crisis and continue to engage in sports,” stated Mr. Sandesh Shrestha.

Laxmi Ghimire, the coach of the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Association (WWBA) said: “We are excited! All our players are really eager to join this virtual championship for the first time and we look forward to this opportunity”.

The championship consists of 11 teams, four of which are women’s teams. This points to the fact that even in the field of adaptive sports, the space is not shared equally among genders, with women having considerably less opportunities than their male counterparts. Even though there is more work to be done in this regard, the championship is breaking new ground.

“It’s a very innovative way to engage and involve all the wheelchair basketball athletes and we really need such championship,” said Himal Aryal, the coach of the Tribhuvan Army Club’s wheelchair basketball team, which is the Nepal army’s team, with whom ICRC Nepal has a long-standing partnership.

The championship will be played over three rounds, and each round comprises of a series of drills on fitness and the overall ability to control and master the use of the ball, together with a series of quizzes focused on verifying their technical expertise of the game, including regulations and strategies. In addition, each team is required to submit videos about themselves, including the importance of wheelchair basketball in the lives of the team members.

The final of the championship is slated to be held in late October. The judges and organizing team are comprised of the core group of ENGAGE sport coaches who have, in the past, actively promoted wheelchair basketball in Nepal.

Partnerships are key to promote adaptive sports. These include partnerships with the civil society, and also with the teams themselves, to provide them with a sense of ownership and decision-making.

The championship aims to not only enhance the physical and emotional wellbeing of the players, but to also provide a platform to advance the game of wheelchair basketball, while allowing more people to understand the power of adaptive sports in changing the society for better.

Though the competitors are not yet at the elite level of wheelchair basketball, they are all have a common desire to stay healthy and remain competitive. Over 50 individuals are participating in the championship, and a good number of them have excellent prospects in reaching higher levels of mastery in the game, in the future.

The second round of the championship is due to start soon, and tougher competitions lay ahead. We hope that this championship will help strengthen the self-confidence of each participating player, while helping more people embrace this incredible sport, played by indefatigable athletes. Though the road towards a more equitable and just society which includes the persons with disabilities is long, single step, including those borne out of a sport virtual competition, counts.

Samridhi Rana is the Disability Inclusion Advisor at ICRC in Nepal. Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE.

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Samridhi Rana & Simone Galimberti

Published

Monday, September 20, 2021 - 13:10

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