By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Reporter

Rooted in the belief of the power of sports to change lives, particularly that of the physically disabled, the paralympic movement has come a long way since being brought to the fore in the middle of the last century.

Paralympic Movement: Transcending barriers through sports

Widely considered as having been started by Sir Ludwig Guttmann, one of the top pre-World War II neurologists in Germany and the main proponent behind the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, the precursor to the Paralympic Games that we know today, the paralympic movement has made significant inroads in transcending barriers for people with disabilities, specifically through sports, to develop not only their physical well-being but self-respect and confidence as well.

Here in the Philippines, formal efforts to look after the welfare of athletes with disabilities have been in existence for just two decades, but much like the wider paralympic movement, it has been bearing fruits led by the efforts of the Philippine Paralympic Committee (PPC) and the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (Philspada).

Recently, the PPC and Philspada organized the first Philippine Para Sports Summit. With the theme, “Transcending Barriers Through Sports,” and held at the Microtel Hotel at the Technohub in Diliman, Quezon City, on June 9, the one-day event gathered key players in local para sports, including officials, athletes, coaches and trainers, sports doctors, marketing experts, and policy makers, to look into the state of Paralympic Sports in the Philippines, identifying local and international goals to enable Filipino para athletes achieve sporting excellence not only here but also abroad.

“This is a call to action for the NSAs (national sports associations), LGUs (local government units) that there is a paralympic counterpart [for mainstream sports] that they can rally behind,” said Michael Barredo, Philspada president, in an interview with a group of reporters during the para sports summit as he described the motor behind the event’s staging.

“This is also one way of enhancing the headways made in the movement, exciting more people and encouraging them to join and be proactive with the paralympic movement,” added Mr. Barredo, who was asked by then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos in the 1990s to help jump-start efforts for the movement in the country.

At the summit, the Philspada president detailed the achievements that the movement has made in 20 years in the country and shooting for equality for disabled athletes.

Foremost was the establishment of Republic Act No. 10699, a law expanding coverage of the incentives for athletes and coaches to include the para category with a new schedule of amounts.

“It took four congresses to get a law passed and get our athletes recognized. When we were starting, we were looking at ways to make an impact on our athletes and the incentives law was an entry point that we saw, believing that if we can get amendments to it, everything will follow. We are so happy that the law has been passed, and now the government is mandated to support local para-athletes,” said Mr. Barredo of the law that passed in 2015.

Apart from Republic Act No. 10699, a broader law, Republic Act 7277, or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, is also in effect, with provisions designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Other milestones for the paralympic movement include the establishment of regional chapters for the movement around the country; the conduct of para sports orientation clinics to introduce paralympic sports, classification, rules, officiating and coaching; the staging of regional/local games leading to the Philspada National Games which have been held since 2000; and establishment of links with both private and government agencies.

In the two decades since a formal structure was put up for the paralympic movement, the country has won two medals in the Paralympic Games, care of powerlifter Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta (bronze, Sydney 2000) and table tennis player Josephine Medina (bronze, Rio 2016).

Seeing how the paralympic movement has grown, Ms. Dumapong-Ancheta said now is not the time to stop but instead they must build on the gains achieved.

“To be honest, this summit should have happened many years earlier. But I guess that timing then for this was not right, maybe because of the economy, us being a developing country,” said Ms. Dumapong-Ancheta said in an interview with BusinessWorld.

Paralympic Movement: Transcending barriers through sports

“But we really have to sit down to chart our path to make things sustainable so as not to let the progress the movement has made go to waste. We are still not yet there with the best countries, but we have been competing and only getting better,” she added.

And sustainability is what Mr. Barredo, Philspada, and PPC are shooting for so as to keep the momentum of the paralympic movement going, eyeing better participation from the private sector.

“Right now that is something that we really want to tap into, to encourage the private sector to get involved. We’d like corporations and individuals to get involved and know what it is all about and eventually be part of it,” said Mr. Barredo.

“We just cannot let only the government support us. We need the private sector and the entire Philippines to help our para-athletes,” he added.

Paralympic Movement: Transcending barriers through sports

But the Philspada official said they recognize that challenges still persist with regard to getting more people involved and they have to go over these.

“The problem with paralympic sports right now is that they are not yet spectator sports, and we see it to continue [this way] for some time still. But back in 2012 in London, a lot of people watched the Paralympic Games so there is still hope,” Mr. Barredo said.

He added that “Corporations want value and we have to show them that our athletes and the movement deserve to be given support. Hopefully this summit will be a jump-off point.”

As a way of getting more people involved, Philspada and PPC are set to launch “Alay Para Atleta,” a nationwide campaign that will enable the general public to participate in the paralympic movement via a P10 to P500 annual contribution through their mobile phones.

“It will be a digital, social media-based campaign. We’re targeting P1 million for the people to buy into the paralympic movement, which will fund research and hiring of professionals who can help our athletes more,” said Mr. Barredo.

To contribute, one just needs to type “ALAYPARA (amount)” and send it to 3456.

Other mobile apps will also be launched with proceeds going to the efforts being made by PPC and Philspada.

“We cannot just sit back and let things happen. We have to be proactive and complement what the government is doing for sports, in general, and people with disabilities, in particular,” said Mr. Barredo.

“This is a win-win situation for our para-athletes. It will go a long way because the value that sports give — like discipline, teamwork, perseverance, fair play, and camaraderie — is worth more with people with disabilities because it develops self-confidence to be competitive, to face life’s challenges,” he added.

“I’m happy how the movement has evolved. Twenty years ago there were no events like this (summit) happening. I have seen the improvement in the support of the public and private sectors. It started with practically nothing to now where we have a law already in place for para-athletes,” Paralympian Dumapong-Ancheta, for her part, said.

“… We are laying a foundation here. There are still problems persisting but we should give more focus on solutions or else we will just be paralyzed,” she added.