Singapore’s first Olympic Gold by Joseph Schooling has set the country alight in frenzy. Citizen and celebrity, both from within Singapore and abroad, have stepped forward to congratulate the win.
As our sports heroes return to Singapore and we look to the closing ceremony on 21 August, another international sports event is right on the horizon: the 2016 Paralympics, happening 7 – 18 September.
It’s just a little more than three weeks away, so let’s not let our support for our athletes die down. Let’s stay on our televisions and YouTube channels, and let’s be just as quick to give our congratulations.
Here we review four reasons why we ought to give the Paralympics (and by extension, disability sports in general) as much support as we did for the Olympics.
1. Because of the heroes
It’s not just our Olympians who have been busy breaking personal and competition records and winning medals. Our Paralympians have been doing so as well.
In May, national para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu broke two records in just as many days apart: the women’s 100m (S2) backstroke and the women’s 50m (S2) backstroke. Earlier in December, national swimmer Theresa Goh finished the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) as host nation Singapore’s most be-medalled athlete, with five gold medals and one bronze.
Despite a 16-year swim career spanning three Paralympic campaigns and dozens of championship titles, the huge crowds at the APG still made an impression on Goh. “This APG has really been historic,” said Goh, speaking to Channel NewsAsia after the Para Games ended. “It will be something that will change how disability sport is viewed in Singapore.”
And it’s this public attention that led Goh, a self-confessed shy person, to slowly embrace her role as the face of disability sports in Singapore.
“At the Games, there were huge crowds of students watching different games… If you teach them that athletes with disabilities matter, and can do well, then they will grow up with that and that’s where you want to start.”
2. Because sports speaks to all of us
Last December, the press reported that the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) was watched by almost a 100,000 spectators, with the stands at nearly full capacity. The week-long event, which saw Singapore capture a record-breaking medal tally of 63, captured the imaginations of many. Some of our athletes have become minor celebrities [Secret: Four months after the games, some of our staff play famous-people-spotting whenever a Para Games athlete drops by the Enabling Village.]
Inherent in all sports—whether involving disabilities or not—is the story of defying odds. Whether it’s a classic underdog situation, a mid-match comeback, or a career-threatening injury, the sportsman is out to prove skeptics wrong.
Sports speak to many of us because, in many ways, it’s the perfect metaphor of life: we can’t all be superhumans. Most of us are simply not going to run 400 metres under 45 seconds, or reach 80 points in a single basketball match. And for those that do, they’re not going to achieve it without years of training and struggle.
Yet the spectacle of sporting feats of strength and endurance continue to serve as fuel for our dreams. Like all difficult endeavours, sports has the potential to be life-changing because of the way it ignites a fire within many of us. It changes the way the individual understands their own potential and strengths, and how the community looks at the individual.
3. Because it blows up stereotypes
Until the rising popularity of the Paralympics, the idea of a sportsperson was the able-bodied, fit and agile man or woman. It was not possible to view differently abled persons as sportspersons.
The three largest international disability sport competitions are the Special Olympics (for athletes with intellectual disabilities), the Paralympic Games (for athletes with disabilities of a wide variety) and Deaflympics (for those who are deaf or hard of hearing). The idea behind having different events for different athletes with disabilities is to open up sports to as many as possible, who can participate in fair competition against athletes with similar levels of ability.
Widespread media coverage of the ASEAN Para Games, which highlighted many stories of athleticism, have changed the notion of a sportsperson for many people. It’s not perfect—there’s still an undertone on impairment rather than achievement—but it is a step towards fostering society’s acceptance of different abilities and adapted sports.
4. Because sports can involve everyone
Sports have always been a means for individuals to socialise, both as a spectator activity and, of course, as something we participate in directly. It connects people by way of competition and fun.
Staying active and engaging in a sporting activity of interest allows people who have physical challenges to maintain their fitness. By promoting our physical and mental well-being, and sports also prevents secondary mobility issues that can affect our health.
With advancements in technology as well as design, we now have adaptive or cross-over sports to allow more inclusive participation in sports, such as sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. Both the competitive sporting world and the fitness community are working towards adaptive practices on and off the field.
In short, the sportspeople in our midst challenge us to get out there, get active, and get fit.