The year ahead in Disability Sports
By Selina Khoo and Payam Ansari
2020 is going to be an exciting year for disability sport with two multi-sport and multi-disability competitions scheduled. The first is the ASEAN Para Games in Manila, New Clark City, and Subic Bay in the Philippines from 20 to 28 March. And of course the Paralympic Games in Tokyo from 25 August to 6 September. Mark the dates in your calendar!
Malaysia first took part in the Paralympic Games in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany and won a medal (bronze medal in powerlifting by Mariappan Perumal) in the second outing at the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games. And who can forget the 3 gold medals won by Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi (men’s 100m T36), Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli (men’s shot put F20), Abdul Latif Romly (men’s long jump T20) at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. It was a momentous moment in Malaysian history. Malaysia’s participation at the ASEAN Para Games has also been successful. From the first edition of the Games in 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, the country has always been in the top three of the medal tally.
However, with all the excitement about the ASEAN Para Games and Paralympics, let’s not forget that sport is more than just competitions and medals. What is important is to encourage more persons with disabilities to participate in sport. There are physical, psychological, and social benefits to participation in sports. This is especially important for persons with disabilities as they tend to have poorer health. We hope to see more grassroots programmes for disability sport for persons with various disabilities and severity of disabilities. In addition, these programmes will be where we discover the next Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, Abdul Latif Romly.
With the new Paralympic Committee of Malaysia in office, we hope to see even more development in disability sport. In addition to the development of athletes, coaches, and technical officials, another important aspect to develop is the visibility of disability sport. Higher visibility will result in increased popularity of disability sport in the country. This in turn will eventually increase stadium attendance and create more demand for viewers.
What we need is to create and develop the fan base for our disability sport. For that, we need to improve the brand of our national sports teams and athletes. This can be done through close relationships with the media to get news of disability sport out. In this age of social media, having constant presence in Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Higher visibility will ultimately result in higher sponsorship and broadcasting value. This means more revenue to organize programmes and subsidies to affiliates. One of the complaints about disability sport has been about limited finances to run programmes and send athletes for competition. Achieving financial independence should be a priority for the committee.
Higher visibility will also encourage more children with disabilities to take up sports. After Malaysia won three gold medals at the last Paralympic Games, parents were interested to have their children with disabilities participate in sport. They saw the potential of sport and wanted their children to be involved. With growing interest in disability sport in Malaysia, it is an opportunity to engage the society, especially the new generation, with disability sport.
We wish Malaysian athletes all the best in the ASEAN Para Games in the Philippines! Here’s looking forward to a successful year in disability sport.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Selina Khoo and Dr. Payam Ansari are from the Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Malaya.