21 Jan The Unique Ability of Inclusive Sports
It is widely acknowledged that sport has the unique ability to transcend linguistic, cultural and social barriers. This makes it an excellent platform for strategies of inclusion and adaptation. Its popularity and broad audience means that examples exhibited by its participants, and sports policy, are seen and considered by many people across a range of demographics. Together with the physical, social and economic development benefits of sports participation and viewing, it becomes an ideal tool for fostering the inclusion and well-being of people with disabilities.
People with disabilities often face societal barriers and disability evokes negative perceptions and discrimination in many societies. As a result of the stigma associated with disability, people with disabilities are generally excluded from education, employment and community life which deprives them of opportunities essential to their social development, health and well-being. In some societies people with disabilities are considered dependent and seen as incapable, thus fostering inactivity which often causes individuals with physical disabilities to experience restricted mobility beyond the cause of their disability.
Sport is a right, not just a privilege
Many state institutions and societies consider sport as a secondary concern to the pursuit of education. However the two are inextricably linked, and exist in the same legal mechanisms designed to safeguard them. Access to sport is not just a privilege, but a right enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 30 of the Convention addresses both mainstream and disability-specific sport and stipulates that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels”. A treaty ratified by 168 states, the CRPD emphasises equal access to sports, and also requires that children with disabilities be included in physical education within the school system “to the fullest extent possible” and enjoy equal access to “play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities”.
Inclusive sport is an effective way in which to transform social and community attitudes about people with disabilities through the exposure of their skills and strength, reducing common tendencies to see the disability instead of the person. For this reason, sport can help reduce the stigma and discrimination often directed at those with disabilities, particularly when it is manifested in an inclusive context. Through inclusive sport, people without disabilities interact directly with people with disabilities in a constructive environment of mutual self-development, making the reshaping of assumptions essential to one’s personal or group success. Perhaps most obviously, people are forced to see people with disabilities for their abilities and capacity, rather than their limitations.
Sport is an important pursuit for a number of critical reasons relevant to self-development. Through sport, one has the opportunity to develop social skills, independence, and their capacity to act as sports ambassadors or drivers of change in their chosen profession or field. Sport also teaches effective communication skills and highlights the importance of teamwork and cooperation. All of the skills development driven from sports participation manifests itself, perhaps most importantly, in an intrinsic respect for others. With this plethora of benefits, it is obvious why sport must be inclusive and available to people with disabilities; through sport they will be encouraged, emboldened in their other pursuits, and through realising their full potential act as ambassadors for change in society.
Through developing one’s capacity and the revealing of one’s abilities in sport, it is inevitable that greater independence will follow. Long-held beliefs on the necessity for dependence can be dispelled as people with disabilities discover their potential, giving rise to gains in physical and mental robustness, determination and strength. These attributes can be applied to all of life’s endeavours, whether it be the workplace, hobbies, relationships or advocacy for change.
It is reported that 93% of women with disabilities are not involved in sport and women comprise only one-third of athletes with disabilities in international competitions. As it stands, these statistics indicate that women with disabilities are largely denied the benefits of inclusive sport. Widely considered to suffer double-discrimination because of their disability and gender across many endeavours, sporting participation becomes even more important in an effort to demonstrate the competency and strength of women with disabilities, dispelling enduring negative stereotypes and rights restrictions that dominate thinking in much of the world.
An important goal for development
It is undeniable that a push for greater access to inclusive sport for people with disabilities is not only a state’s legal duty, but a crucial goal for all civil society actors. The case for this is summed-up plainly in the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs report on sport pertaining to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), sentiments that remain relevant when considering the more contemporary Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
“by improving the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities, sport can also help to advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For example, sports-based opportunities can help achieve the goal of universal primary education (MDG2) by reducing stigma preventing children with disabilities from attending school; promote gender equality (MDG3) by empowering women and girls with disabilities to acquire health information, skills, social networks, and leadership experience; and lead to increased employment and lower levels of poverty and hunger (MDG1) by helping to reduce stigma and increase self-confidence.”
By Oliver King