Persons with Disability in Sport

Over the years we have witnessed the advocacy and drive to ensure people with a disability receive the same recognition, status, opportunities and infrastructure to enable them to function optimally in society. Across the globe there has been notable progress to ensure equality for all.

In countries like South Africa, its constitution, which is one of the best internationally, is also legislating corporates and organisations to ensure more is done to include people with disabilities in the work-environment. Sport as we know, is the one area where there has been positive change to address past inequalities, which dates as far back as 1912 with the first Olympics for disabled persons. The past decade has seen the rise of sporting celebrities in disabled sports and also contributed towards more people watching, attending and participating in disabled sports. This is only a fraction of the support, sponsorships, coverage and attention that sports for abled body persons are receiving. So who is responsible for addressing the inequalities as far as disabled sports are concerned? In the end the decisions are

taken by the people.

Furthermore, it requires constant awareness and reminders of how not to discriminate, combined with enhanced sensitivity towards people with disabilities, this will contribute towards ensuring that this cause maintains its momentum, enlightens society at large, ultimately, to achieve notable change. The narrative should also be kept alive and a priority for all the stakeholders across the spheres of society. It is not a responsibility of some, but a responsibility of all.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” –Christopher Reeve

The Sports Trust as a non-profit organisation and as part of its mandate and vision has been instrumental as far as supporting sports for people with a disability. Since 1992 the Trust supported various programmes, causes and initiatives aimed to address past imbalances and provide sporting equipment, infrastructure, and kit as per the needs expressed by the beneficiaries.

These interventions were activated in all nine provinces of the country. In South Africa sports for people with a disability is managed under the auspices of the South African Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD). The organisation with its purpose driven mandate and programmes continuously strive for equal opportunities and recognition as in the case of able bodied sports persons.

Numerous national teams have represented South Africa at the Paralympics and related sporting competitions since the readmission of the country as a member of the International Olympic community. This is after decades of isolation and sporting boycotts. This in itself led to copious missed opportunities, especially since the first Deaf and Silent Games, Paris 1924. Over the years there has also been various names given to the sport for the disabled; such as Para-Sports and Adaptive Sports.

The Para-Sports and Adaptive Sports had three distinct

categories and classification as follows:

• Deaf Athletes

• Physically Disabled Athletes

• Intellectually Disabled Athletes

In 2006 the Extreme Games were formed and it was specifically for people who have lost a limb. Prince Harry from the UK also launched the Invictus Games to honour men and women who have sacrificed their lives to protect the well-being of their fellow citizens and countrymen. Because of the involvement, support and custodianship of a royal we have witnessed an increase in support for persons with a disability.

Again is it enough to ensure equal recognition, involvement and investment in sports for the disabled? The answer is no. Sports for the disabled are not high on the agenda of decision makers and not viewed as commercially viable as sports for abled bodied persons. Will stronger regulation and corporate guidelines/codes ensure that a percentage of all sponsorship or CSR budgets be allocated towards disabled sports? It is a start and could strengthen the conversation for a more representative budget spends and investment in sports to accommodate people with a disability to compete at the highest levels without the pressures of trying to secure funding and support. In 1998 when The Sports Trust supported SASAPD with the upgrade of the swimming pool at Mandeville this was done as an initial investment towards its commitment to ensure sports for the disabled is not ignored or left without the specialist infrastructure and facilities to enable the athletes to participate in sports without additional barriers to realise their dreams.

tSouth Africa’s well-known disabled sports heroes such as Natalie Du Toit, Zanele Sithu, Lucas Sithole, Ernst Van Dyk, Leon Labuschagne, Hilton Langenhoven; Fanie Lombaard, Malcolm Pringle and Union Sekailwe including our wheelchair basketball teams just to name a few have paved the way for future generations to continue believing that “I can”.

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

-Stephen Hawking

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