Using the power of para sport

Published on November 28th, 2020

Massimo Dighe

Massimo Dighe, a Paralympic sailor for the Italian National Team, and the Para Manager for World Sailing, explains how the lack of data has made people with disabilities invisible, and how sailing can be harnessed to include them in the sporting world.

Sailing is, arguably, one of the few sports in which people with and without disabilities can participate on equal terms. This makes it a uniquely inclusive activity: sailing can both enable those with disabilities and additional needs to get on the water, compete, and provide inclusion opportunities for people with zero to high needs, rather than separating those with disabilities from people without.

Even at the highest levels, para sailing provides opportunities for people with a variety of disabilities, or even without disabilities, to compete together, without the need to establish multiple events.

In our Federation, we understand the growing recognition of sport as a vehicle for development, peace and inclusion, and therefore we wanted to promote the use of sailing for development programs and initiatives targeting young people with disabilities in different parts of the world.

When we started to plan our work, one of the main challenges we found was the lack of data and documentation regarding disability and sport, and the lack of analysis on the impact of sport, especially para sports, has on increasing social inclusion.

Sport has always been seen as “something more”, not a necessity, especially in countries where there are limited resources or without a strong history of disability inclusion, and this is reflected in the lack of data and documentation.

The first research we carried out was, then, on how the onset of a disability leads to the worsening of socio-economic well-being and poverty. This could be through many channels, including adverse impacts on education, employment and earnings.

We also sought to understand if and how children with disabilities are more likely to be impacted, as they are less likely to attend school and may go on to face reduced employment opportunities.

For individuals, especially children and youth, who have been uprooted by poverty, disability, war or persecution, sport is much more than a leisure activity. It is also an opportunity to be included and protected – a chance to heal, develop and grow.

Sport can be a positive catalyst for empowering these communities, helping to strengthen social cohesion and forge closer ties within the social sphere.

Sports and games are popular activities among children and youth, and organized sports programmes go a step further. They work to develop life skills and address the specific protection risks that children and youth face, within a fun, safe and supportive environment.

Unfortunately, all these aspects are still a taboo in a lot of our societies, where it is easy, morally and logistically, to maintain a certain degree of separation between able and disabled people.

We are convinced that sailing is the perfect sport to promote this type of project and inclusion. Sailing is a lifetime sport, a competitive and recreational activity for people of all abilities, backgrounds and ages, that uniquely harnesses the power of nature.

Skill, strategy, fast tactical thinking, technique and teamwork are the keys to success in sailing. Sailing has an athletic environment that is respectful, equitable and free of all forms of violence, harassment and abuse, in which all athletes have the right to be treated with respect, protected from non-accidental violence.

To develop para sailing, we decided then to create our Para-sailing Development Program (PDP), in order to help national sailing federations and disabled sailing associations by assisting in the development of national para sail programs, working with them to enhance inclusion of disadvantaged and young people through sailing.

We work with them to create training programs, support the training of para sailors and their coaches through dedicated sailing camps, and arrange classification opportunities for sailors that are not yet classified but wish to be, in order to participate in sailing events. The PDP focuses on enabling participating nations to grow sustainable training programs and promote mainstream social inclusion through sport. By developing local programmes and professionals, we leave a lasting legacy in the countries we work in.

We all need to fight the intrinsic ableism present in our society through our various sports. Our aim should be to create a fully inclusive society, using the power of para sport, where competition can motivate communities across the globe to compete against and celebrate their fellow citizens in different types of events.


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