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Including persons with disability in sport

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Jayanti Behera is running against all odds

An accident, when she was just one year old, did little to stop this athlete from taking India to the heights of international glory. Here's the journey of the "Sakhigopal Express" and the sports ecosystem that supports her.

[This article was originally published on The Bastion. Read it here.]

If there were any reason for people to visit Sakhigopal, a quaint town on the coast of Odisha, it would probably be to pay a visit to the Puri Jagannath Temple or for the town’s coconut plantations. Kunja Behera is a daily-wage labourer in Sakhigopal who toils away to support his large family that includes his wife, three daughters, and a son. As if livelihood struggles weren’t enough to deal with, many years ago, Kunja faced further misery when his one-year-old daughter Jayanti accidentally fell into a brick kiln. She suffered second-degree burns, leaving her left side partially disabled, including her hand. The accident was so severe that the fingers on her left hand had to be amputated, her left wrist remains permanently crooked and she lost sensory nerves in the area, meaning she cannot straighten it.

Today, Jayanti Behera goes by “Sakhigopal Express”, a nickname bestowed upon her after her incredible performance in the National Para Championships back in 2016. As the athletics world remains locked down due to the COVID-19 crisis, one of India’s finest para-athletes is grinding it out at a make-shift athletic track in her home town.

The severity of the socio-economic disruption due to COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the Behera family, who are primarily dependent on daily-wage labour. Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, Jayanti finds it hard to believe that she is currently the sole bread-winner for her family, especially after they were initially apprehensive about athletics aggravating her injury. 

The girl just loves to run

Despite her family’s support, the fear of discrimination for being a girl child with a “disability” in rural India concerned Jayanti deeply. Despite the injury, running was one activity that made Jayanti feel no different from her friends, so she continued to enjoy it during her primary and middle-school days.

"Running gives me a sense of freedom and joy. It has given me a platform to showcase my talent, compete with other able-bodied and para-athletes, and makes me feel on par with my peers. I enjoy being a competitive athlete, setting goals and training hard to achieve them," says Jayanti.

As Jayanti’s interest in running developed, she began observing other children training after study sessions in her school’s playground. Later that year, in a block-level sports competition, Jayanti participated with other able-bodied children and ended up finishing the race in the first position. More than the medal, what gave the most joy to Jayanti was the fact that Coach Bishnu Prasad took notice of her abilities and asked her to join his training camp. 

The state of para-athletics in India

Bishnu Prasad, renowned in Odisha for having a sharp eye for talent, noticed Jayanti’s extra zeal and commitment when she was being coached. Not once did she feel differently-abled; training made her happier and more respectful towards her Coach. Going by the rapid progress of his ward, Bishnu Prasad convinced Jayanti’s parents to shift her to Gurukul Athletic Training Centre, which was more conducive to professional training.

During her formative years, Jayanti had to compete with able-bodied athletes, a lacuna in the system that is yet to be addressed at the grassroots level.

Owing to a lack of awareness and encouragement for differently-abled children, the number of para-athletes participating in a sporting event is minimal. So, no competitions are held at the district or state level. An open national event becomes the only ray of hope for a differently-abled athlete.

The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) allows athletes to select from 20 available categories based on their impairments. As per the norms, Jayanti found the T-47 category (upper limb affected by limb deficiency, impaired muscle power, or impaired passive range of movement) applicable. Shorter distances needed a quicker start off the blocks, which puts severe pressure on Jayanthi’s upper body. Consequently, she preferred distance-running events like 800m, 1500m, and 3000m. Eventually, she took up the 400m event because the other distance categories were not available in the T-47 classification. 

Talent hunting and funding shapes the dream

In 2016, Coach Bishnu Prasad decided to test his ward’s talent at the National Para Athletics Championship 2016 at Panchkula. Jayanti won the gold medal at the event and a coveted sports scholarship by the GoSports Foundation, a non-profit based out of Bangalore. It was part of their Para Champions Programme, which intends to “add structure to the Indian Paralympic movement”, with a vision to change the general perceptions towards differently-abled individuals. With GoSports’ professional team managing Jayanti’s sports career, she received support with travel expenses, training equipment, nutrition, and injury management.

Her Gold in the 400m and Bronze in the 200m events at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta is a testament to the support system that Jayanti has been fortunate to rely on.

"Our goal [through the Para Champions programme] is to create a platform that allows Jayanti to be a role model for her community. And, this, in turn, will inspire other aspiring athletes to follow her path and pursue their dreams. At the 2016 Rio games, India had more medals in the Paralympics than the Olympics. The trend is likely to continue in the upcoming editions if the needs of the para-athletes are taken care of," says Deepthi Bopaiah, Executive Director of GoSports Foundation.

As Jayanti prepares for the 2021 Tokyo edition amidst a slowly easing national lockdown, she continues to support her family with the allowance she receives from government sports schemes. Jayanti sometimes wonders how the little girl who suffered that horrific injury at such a young age, with no clarity on what life had to offer, turned out to be the role model for her community in Sakhigopal and para-athletes across India!

Vijay Krishnamurthy is a research scholar (Ph.D.) at the SDM Research Centre for Management Studies (Mysore) working on his Doctoral program in sports management.

Established in 2008, GoSports Foundation is a national non-profit organization working towards the development of some of India’s most talented emerging and elite athletes who compete in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines. Anyone can play their part by contributing towards the journey of many athletes like Jayanti by visiting https://www.gosportsfoundation.in/get-involved

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Vijay Krishnamurthy

Published

11/19/2020 - 12:01

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Copyrights: DEGAN Gabin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Including persons with disabilities in sport

In the run up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2020, we asked the sportanddev community to send in their articles on how they are making sports more inclusive, what their challenges are, and what the future of inclusive sports looks like.

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Copyrights: International Paralympic Committee

Para-sport inspires the rite of passage for Vanuatu’s Mathias Nakat

Born with cerebral palsy, Nakat left school in grade four. Last year, he was selected to represent Vanuatu at the Arafura Games. This is his journey.

[Have an article on how persons with disabilities can be included in sport? Submit to our call for articles!]

When Mathias Nakat was selected to represent Vanuatu at the Arafura Games last year, the moment signified more than the beginning of his representative sporting career.

The moment signified the beginning of his transformation from a boy to a man and a cultural rite of passage for Ni-Vanuatu men.

Born with cerebral palsy, Nakat left school in grade four. The relentless bullying, the nasty jokes and the constant name calling made him so ashamed of his impairment he would refuse to see anyone outside of his family, even when visitors would stop by.

In 2017 and with much resistance, a then 17-year-old Nakat was taken to a Vanuatu Paralympic Committee Talent Identification Day on his home island, Tanna by VPC coach and family friend Timothy Loughmann.

It was only moments into the session that a twist of fate saw his life take a different course. “The moment he ran, I knew we had a potential athlete in the making,” said Oceania Paralympic Committee Project Coordinator Chris Nunn.

Nunn, a former Australian Para-athletics Team head coach with a history of success at the Paralympic Games, saw something in Nakat that no one had ever seen before.

“His times were awesome. With the success at the trials, we asked him to become a member of our elite squad on Tanna.”

Soon training up to five days a week under Loughmann, Nakat’s times skyrocketed, as did his confidence. But what was most impressive was his dedication to see out his potential.

For Nakas, even getting to training can present its own challenges, but he is living proof that where there is a will, there is a way.

“Bus fares are a big issue for Mathias. So many times he had to walk long distances to training, and then home again. But rain or shine, he never missed a session,” said Nunn.

It wasn’t long before even his mother saw the positive impact on Matthias.

“I could see him changing. He was out of the house, getting fit. The squad encouraged him with their own stories of never giving up,” she said.

“He was smiling and talking. God sent the Para-sport coaches to us.”

With his natural talent and his dedication to his new craft, it came as no surprise to his peers when he was selected to represent his country at the Arafura Games in Darwin, Australia last year.

The selection to Team Vanuatu at the Arafura Games also became symbolic of the next steps in his personal growth.

Nakat had never left his family home. He had never been on a plane or even left his home town.

In Tanna, the small island in the south of the Vanuatu archipelago where Nakat is from, culture and custom is the way of life. Women mostly wear grass skirts and men wear sheaths.

And so, while his team selection signified his pure potential, it also presented a cultural opportunity.

“In our custom, when a boy leaves his family home, he is shaved in public by his kastompatron, with his community present to witness this important step of transitioning from a boy to a man,” Loughmann said.

More than 40 people gathered to watch as Vanuatu’s Attorney General shaved Mathias. His grandfather, former Prime Minister Joe Natuman was present and spoke about the significance for Nakat personally and culturally.

As Nakat was given his uniform, a shy smile emerged and the young boy who dropped out of school in grade four had found himself as well as a pathway to follow.

At the Arafura Games last year, Nakat ran in the Oceania T37-38 relay, to win silver for his country.

Winning for Nakat was the journey and gaining crucial experience that will shape a prosperous career.

Nakat has since competed in Australia for domestic competition, and he is now training hard ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Georges Langa from the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee said that stories like Nakat’s are not unusual in the Pacific Islands.

“It’s why so many Ni-Vanuatu living with an impairment do not finish school. Then without an education, they find gaining employment very difficult.”

His story is one that is now empowering other people with disabilities in Vanuatu to discover their own talents and find a way forward.

This article was originally published on the Oceania Paralympics website. Read it here

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Oceania Paralympic

Published

11/19/2020 - 11:35

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Copyrights: ChildFund

Vietnamese player Mai proof that rugby is a game for everyone

Mai, a 13-year-old rugby player from Vietnam, has a hearing impairment and found it difficult to make friends prior to picking up a rugby ball two years ago.

[Have an article on how persons with disabilities can be included in sport? Submit to our call for articles!]

Meet Mai, a young player, whose life has been transformed by her introduction to rugby in Vietnam through a ChildFund-supported programme working with community clubs.

Mai, 13, who lives with her grandparents in a small village in the remote northern district of Tan Lac, has a hearing impairment which meant she found it difficult to make friends.

“In the past, Mai was often lonely. She had no friends. At school, she often sat alone during breaks because she could not hear what her friends were talking about,” her grandmother explained.

However, just under two years ago she was invited to take part in a tag rugby and life-skills session run by ChildFund Pass It Back, the principal charity partner for Rugby World Cup 2019, which would change everything.

Today, Mai plays for the Forest Flowers tag rugby team, and her daily life has experienced significant change as she has been able to make friends, and her confidence has grown.

“Mai is much more energetic than she used to be. Now when she is at home, she is so eager to learn and often gets her books out to study. Every day after having her meal, she volunteers to wash the dishes. She now also takes better care of herself,” her grandmother said. 

“Her personality has changed also. I can see that Mai is much happier since she joined the programme. She enjoys going to training and riding her bike to the pitch. On some days she even rides down the village road to see if any of her friends want to play rugby. After the sessions, she seems to be in a very good mood.”

Breaking barriers

According to Mai’s grandmother, the family thought it would be impossible for her to play sport due to her hearing impairment.

“When she was asked by a ChildFund Pass It Back coach to take part, we let her go but did not expect that she would be able to learn anything,” her grandmother said. “We had never seen a child who has disability in our community participate in any kind of team activity.” 

However, since Mai joined the programme, her coaches and team-mates have provided a great deal of support. When she steps onto the pitch, she sits close to the coaches during discussions so that she can hear what they are saying. 

Her team-mates take great care of her, and children visit her house more frequently, often collecting her as they go to school.

“When Mai joined in 2018, she often showed up to the pitch but sat at a distance from the rest and did not interact with anyone,” Mai’s coach, Thuy, said. “She learned slower than her team-mates and often dropped the ball, which would make her even more frustrated. 

“Initially, some of the players did not want to let Mai play in their team. We spent time talking to the team about this. We helped the players understand the importance of inclusion. Since then, they have been respectful and now consider Mai as a member of the team. Thanks to their help, Mai has become much more confident.”

"I'm so happy I could be part of the competition"

Mai was given an opportunity to play in her first tournament in November, 2018. However, she was initially so shy and nervous that she didn’t join her team on the pitch.

It took the help of one of her team-mates, who found her a bib and tags and showed her how to put the bib on, to usher Mai into the game. 

As she walked onto the pitch, she was excited and the encouragement of her coaches and other players helped fill her with confidence. It proved a turning point, and helped Mai develop a greater sense of belonging, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

“I’m so happy that I could be part of the competition. I had thought that the competition is only for good and skilful players and not for me,” she said.

Fast-forward 12 months, to the end-of-season tournament, and Mai was actively playing in matches and showing a huge enthusiasm for the game.

Thuy added: “Before, Mai needed lots of support to start the game or activity, but now she picks up her equipment to get ready for the games on her own, just like her peers.” 

Children living with disabilities often experience significant challenges as a result of discrimination that denies them their right to take an active role in their community.

Supported by World Rugby and Asia Rugby, ChildFund Pass It Back coaches are setting a new example in communities. As they actively find and welcome players like Mai, they are role modelling inclusive behaviours for others to follow. Through their actions, they demonstrate that all children and youth, including those living with disabilities, should have their rights recognised and upheld. This work to establish and strengthen community rugby clubs has provided a sustainable platform to be more inclusive and to ensure that coaches and role models have the skills to not only coach rugby, but also to teach critical life skills.

Young girls like Mai have the ability to enrich their own lives and make a valuable contribution to their communities. They just need an opportunity, and encouragement and respect along the way. 

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World Rugby

Published

11/04/2020 - 12:55

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Copyrights: World Rugby

10 facts you need to know about international Wheelchair Rugby

International wheelchair rugby has been wowing spectators for over four decades. We take a look at some of the facts behind one of the Paralympics’ crown jewels.

[Have an article on how persons with disabilities can be included in sport? Submit to our call for articles!]

Combining elements of rugby, basketball and handball, wheelchair rugby is a spectacular, fast-paced sport that is now fully established within the Paralympic movement.

Here are 10 facts about the sport once known as ‘Murderball’ for its ferocity.

Who created wheelchair rugby?

Affectionately known as “The Quad Father”, Canadian Duncan Campbell first set the ‘wheels in motion’ in 1976 for wheelchair rugby to become the success it is today.

As a young athlete, Campbell developed the basic rules and regulations of the game and assured that the sport was designed so that quadriplegics and others with high-level disabilities would have a sport that they could call their own.

In 2018, Campbell was the first individual to be inducted into the International Wheelchair Rugby Hall of Fame in recognition of his services to the sport.

When did the first competition take place?

In 1977, Campbell introduced the sport at a multi-sport/multi-disability event in Edmonton,  Canada, and convinced a number of other provinces to put teams together. Two years later Canada held their first National Championship, and in 1981 the first teams in the United States began to form. A year later, the University of North Dakota held the first International Wheelchair Rugby tournament with teams competing from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Minnesota.

By 1995, the first World Championships took place in Switzerland. A year later, Wheelchair Rugby appeared at the Paralympics as a demonstration sport before becoming a full medal sport at Sydney 2000.

How is it played? 

There are several variants of wheelchair rugby, but the international version is co-ed and played by four players on the court at any one time, from a squad of 12, passing a round ball to one another in an attempt to create space. Wheelchair rugby matches are played in four quarters, each lasting eight minutes, with a five minute break between quarters.

The winner of a wheelchair rugby match is the team that has scored the highest number of tries. Tries are scored when a player crosses the opposition’s eight-metre try-line with two of his or her wheels on the ground. If tries are level at the end of regulation time, three-minute overtime periods are played until a winner is declared.

Is there a battle for possession? 

To encourage positive play and avoid the clock being run down by the team in the lead, a 40-second scoring rule was introduced in 2008. If a team hasn’t scored within that time possession is handed over. Teams have 12 seconds to move the ball from their half of the court (each court measures 28 metres x 15 metres) into the opposition’s half. Players must bounce or pass the ball within 10 seconds of receiving it.

Is it a full contact sport? 

Why else do you think it was once called Murderball!? Clashes between wheelchairs are very much part of the game and key to its spectator appeal. Hitting or blocking is used to either stop an opponent or to create space for a team-mate when on the attack. Dangerous play or committing a flagrant foul can result in sanctions.

What is the composition of the team? 

The level of disability of a player in international wheelchair rugby has seven different classifications ranging from 0.5 to 3.5, with the lower the number the greater the level of physical restriction.

Teams of four cannot have an overall classification higher than 8.0. Players with a classification of 0.5 tend to be defenders or ‘blockers’, while those with the highest classification are more inclined to be playmakers suited to a dynamic role. Teams are mixed, made up of both men and women. For each female player on the court, an additional half-point is allowed.

Are wheelchairs specially adapted? 

Yes, and they can cost up to US$10,000! Offensive wheelchairs are shorter with small bumpers and rounded wings so that they can turn and manoeuvre in tight spaces. Defensive wheelchairs are longer and have a wide bumper at the front designed to strike and hold opposing players.

Is it popular? 

Most definitely  – as both a participation and spectator event.

International wheelchair rugby is played in around 40 countries, 30 of whom are members of the International Wheelchair Federation.

Part of the Paralympics in 2000, Wheelchair Rugby was the first sport to sell-out when tickets went on advance sale for the London 2012 Games.

Which country is the best in the world at it? 

Australia currently tops the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation Rankings, with the USA and Japan – the current world champions – in second and third. Australia are bidding for a hat-trick of Paralympic gold medals in Tokyo having won in London and Rio.

The USA have also won two gold medals (2000 and 2008), with New Zealand topping the podium in Athens in 2004. New Zealand have, however, slipped down to 10th position in the rankings.

Five different continents are represented in the world’s top 10, reflecting the global appeal of the sport. 

Who is the star of international wheelchair rugby? 

It is hard to look beyond 3.5 classified player, Ryley Batt. Irrepressible in attack and defence, the four-time Paralympian was the main inspiration behind Australia claiming gold in the other three major events: the Rio 2016 Paralympics, 2014 World Championships and London 2012 Paralympics.

Daisuke Ikezaki is pushing him hard for the accolade, though, despite being in his 40s. The veteran was named Most Valuable Player at the 2018 World Championship, where Japan won an historic gold medal by defeating favourites Australia in a thrilling final.

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World Rugby

Published

11/02/2020 - 11:36

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Copyrights: DEGAN Gabin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Call for articles: Including persons with disabilities in sport

sportanddev is looking for articles in the run up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. Deadline to submit articles has been extended to 20 November!

Deadline to submit articles has been extended to 20 November!

In recognition of the forthcoming International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, we are inviting you to submit articles to sportanddev on the issue of including persons with disabilities in sport. This collection will be co-edited by Eli Wolff, Disability in Sport International/Power of sport Lab and Mary Hums, University of Louisville.

You can contribute on behalf of an organization highlighting how you are working on the issue or as an individual sharing your views on the topic. We are open to receiving articles on a range of subjects, but some questions to consider are:

  •  How are you including persons with disabilities in your programs, policies, organizations and communities?
  • What are two to three challenges that you confront when working to include persons with disabilities in sport, and how do you seek to overcome these challenges?  
  • What information and resources would you like to see and have in your work toward including persons with disabilities in sport? 
  • What are two to three innovative ideas, tips, solutions or recommendations you would like to share and pass on to others with respect to including persons with disabilities in sport?
  • Are sport for development organizations doing enough to include persons with disabilities in their programs? How can a wider variety of organizations be encouraged to include persons with disabilities? 
  • What are your views on the current state of policies related to this topic? What policies from governments or sports federations would lead to more effective inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport? 
  • What do you see as future opportunities for including persons with disabilities in sport?

Contributors are free to explore other questions in addition to those listed. Please submit responses to Tariqa Tandon on tandon@sad.ch by Friday, 20 November. Articles should ideally be 500-800 words, though longer or shorter articles may be considered. If possible, you should also include a high-res image with copyright information. 
 
Please also include a 1-2 sentence biography of the author(s) and links to any websites or social media profiles you would like associated with the post.
 

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Eli Wolff and Mary Hums

Published

10/14/2020 - 10:50

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