Grabbing gold at the Olympics is the pinnacle of achievement, but sport can do more to build stronger bonds between all areas of society. By S. Sakthivel
While professional athletes compete for gold, glory, hefty endorsement deals, and even National Service exemption, it’s easy to forget that sport can be the conduit for social change.
Sport, through the Special Olympics programmes, affords life-changing opportunities to athletes with physical or mental impairments.
It can open them up to vast changes in quality of life and help those who suffer from intellectual disabilities (ID) to better integrate into society and equip them with the necessary skills to pursue future endeavours, says Dipak Natali, Special Olympics Asia Pacific’s Director of Organizational Development.
“Sports participation can be the doorway to influence other aspects of their lives,” he explains.
Sport not only has health and fitness benefits, it also empowers ID athletes by showing them what they are capable of. It also shows the rest of society what these individuals could achieve. It plays an important role in building confidence, fostering independence, while teaching athletes life skills like decision-making, teamwork, and perseverance.
In partnership with Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Special Olympics Asia Pacific has organised a special training clinic to improve the skills of coaches who work with people with ID.
Natali believes that creating a grassroots movement at the coaching level in Asia will have the most impact on the issue and hopes that it will grow from there.
“We want to demystify the concept of coaching those with ID and coaches are the cornerstones to promoting new ways to play and learn,” he says.
“Coaches and trainers can use their influence to introduce social change and use sports to teach those with ID,” Natali says.
He adds that sport also offers us an avenue to reach out to those with ID and hopes create an inclusive and unified environment for increased interaction between athletes with and without ID.
However, he notes that the biggest challenge in this regard is that of changing mindsets and perceptions, which is a much longer game.