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Triumph of the Will

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For people with disabilities, sports plays a crucial role in helping them develop their physical abilities as well as their confidence. As Chairman of the Bahrain Sports Federation for Disabilities, Shaikh Mohammed bin Daij Al Khalifa is a firm believer in the power of the will of the human spirit. And he truly feels that with the right community support and encouragement, disabled athletes can shine. Shaikh Mohammed joins Bahrain This Week to give an in-depth look at the federation and its activities.

From expanding the number of sporting events for disabled atheltes to bringing home a grand tally of 96 medals worldwide, it has been a very fruitful time for the Bahrain Sports Federation for Disabilities.

In the domain of empowering people with disabilities, the vital role of the federation is to enable athletes to help themselves.

“A lot of people do not understand the importance of sports for people with disabilities. Through the sports federation, we are focused on building self-confidence and independence in the person as well as fostering their competitive spirit.

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“This is essential for their mental and physical wellness,” said Shaikh Mohammed.

Disabled people, according to Shaikh Mohammed, do not need someone to help them always. Rather, they need to be enabled to be independent and sports is one of the tools to acheive that objective.

“Through sports, you are able to give a child or an athlete the confidence to actually go out to the workplace and find a job. In addition, they develop the confidence to publicly and we facilitate that through exposure namely in the form of interviews in television and newspapers among others.”

He described the two main objectives of federation as to maintain the wellness of the athletes in all aspects of his or her life and to have them prepped as elite athletes who can participate in big international events and represent their nation.

“We are also working to arrange programmes that are open for everybody who are interested in taking these courses in partnership with various international firms specialising in these fields.”

The will to power

Shaikh Mohammed is a firm believer in the maxim that the strength of a person’s will enables them to overcome any adversities.

“With disabled athletes, we have the challenge of what the person has faced in his background.

“Sports and a competitive atmosphere therefore give them the opportunity to shine and blossom.

“We have seen that not only in Bahrain but in many nations and neighbouring states the examples of people who have disabilities, or developed handicaps through accidents, fighting their depression and circumstances and come out as brilliant athletes who are recognised both regionally and globally,” he said.

It is their spirit and the community that surrounds them that makes the difference, he added.

Transformation

Shaikh Mohammed described vividly on the apparent transformation a person with disablities undergo when integrated into community activities.

He explained that the overall mission of the federation is to bring out the true potential of the person.

“When they go to a psychiatrist and talks to them but then goes home and they find themselves inside a room needing assistance to do simple tasks such as go to the bathroom. This is because the building is not made to suit their requirements and probably in turn make them depressed.”

However, when they arrive at the federation, Shaikh Mohammed says that they are initially shy and don’t want to come out.

“But when they start playing you see them starting to smile.

“After two or three weeks you can see their parents thanking you and asking you ‘what have you done?'”

Well, it is not us who did it. It is themselves, he said.

“When they come here they actually notice ‘Wow I can be somebody else. I can be a champion!’ It gives them hope and this gives them feedback. We also tell them to do better in school because when they do we will help them land a job as well.”

Additionally, they also receive inspiration from the veteran athletes of the federation who have been there since the 80s and the 90s, Shaikh Mohammed added.

“As the management of the federation, we have different disabilites under our responsibility and we need all the support we can get to make the federation a better place for people with disabilities, which will in turn lead us to make Bahrain a better place for those with disabilities.

“What is more important is that we need to build the right mindset in the athlete, develop their mental and physical wellbeing. We also try to ensure that the athletes have a choice and are not restricted to a certain discipline. They need to have equal opportunities lke the people who aren’t disabled.”

And with this objective in mind, the federation has reintroduced swimming and table tennis and introduced wheelchair badminton and seated volleyball over the recent years. Shaikh Mohammed revealed that plans are afoot to introduce hand cycling, wheelchair running, football for para-athletes and football for the blind
as well.

Achievements

In 2016, the federation had the monumental honour of meeting His Majesty King Hamad and him honouring paralympic gold medallist Fatima Abdulrazzaq who won the first place in
the shot put competition in Rio De
Janeiro, Brazil.

We also had the honour of having His Highness Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa as the honorary chairman of the federation, Shaikh Mohammed said. “Furthermore, we introduced new sports and managed to build a proper facility for field sports which should be opening soon in the coming weeks.”

Shaikh Mohammed also encouraged Bahrain’s youth to do their part in empowering their disabled brothers and sisters. He stressed that those with disabilities are no different from others.

“God created them this way or they unfortunately turned out this way because of a cause. We need to treat them the same regardless and make them feel normal.

“For older youth, volunteering work is extremely important. It is a very selfless gesture when a person gives from his own time to others and thus I highly recommend people to try volunteering with us.”

Although monumental progress has been achieved for the disabled in terms of making their lives better, there is a lot of community improvements that need to be made, mainly in accessibility, Shaikh Mohammed explained.

“For example, we need buildings that enable people in wheelchairs to serve themselves without anybody helping them. This is exactly what we are trying to achieve. It is important when you’re responsible of something. If there is a will there is a way.”

Challenges

Meanwhile, the biggest problem faced by the federation is the issue of transportation, Shaikh Mohammed asserts.

The two buses and a car at their disposal are simply not enough transport the participants to and from the federation. This is an issue that we need to solve in the coming years, he added.

“Our long-term plan is to increase the number of people who have qualifications to train people with disabilities, increase number of athletes from the federation and to achieve more glory for Bahrain in global championships,” he said.

Shaikh Mohammed marked his gratitude to all the sponsors and supporters for the work they have done to advance the federation and develop sports for the disabled in Bahrain. He also highlighted the positive work done by the National Paralympic Community, the Bahrain Special Olympic Committee and the Bahrain Deaf Sports Federation as well.

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