CAN SPORTS LEAD IN CREATING A MORE TOLERANT SOCIETY?
Powered by: Alan Kasujja, Presenter, Newsday, BBC, Uganda
Lord Holmes, Member, House of Lords, former Paralympian, United Kingdom
Dallas Oberholzer, Founder and Director, Indigo Youth Movement, South Africa
Rick Hansen, CEO, Rick Hansen Foundation, former Paralympian, Canada
Kim Samuel, President, The Samuel Family Foundation, Canada
There is little doubt that attitudes within sports to those with physical and mental disabilities have changed dramatically.
The popularity of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, or the cooperation between the X Games and the Special Olympics, are testament to the changing attitudes worldwide which have led to greater tolerance and acceptance.
But the panel in this thought-provoking discussion were unanimous in their agreement that more needs to be done to ensure sports continues to act as a vehicle to promote integration and reduce isolation.
Rick Hansen, the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation and a former Paralympian, said: “Our perceptions and our attitudes about how we view disability and our preoccupation on loss versus ability and potential is one of the greatest isolating forces we can imagine.”
Hansen knows more on this topic than most - he talked openly of the changes he had to make in his perception towards the billion people worldwide with disabilities after he suffered profound spinal injuries in an accident at the age of 15.
Kim Samuel, President of The Samuel Family Foundation, was also moved by personal reasons to battle for those in isolation.
Her father died following a severe brain injury, and she disclosed how a meeting with the iconic Nelson Mandela convinced her to take up the cause.
“He said he never felt isolated, even on Robben Island, because they were all brothers working towards a common purpose,” she revealed. “He had seen isolation in a child in an African village who had HIV/AIDS, that nobody would feed or touch. He had seen how bad isolation could be. It occurred to me that that was what I should be working on for the rest of my life.”
Samuel also called for a change in attitudes towards mental illness, and an acknowledgement that it was a more widespread problem than people were prepared to accept.
But how can these changes actually be put into motion? Another former Paralympian and current House of Lords member, Lord Holmes, explained the role sports can play.
“Inclusion can drive change,” he said. “Sport can’t be the answer to everything, but it can play an incredibly fundamental role to changing attitudes and driving that inclusion.”
As for changes on the ground, Dallas Oberholzer, Founder and Director of Indigo Youth Movement, suggested more facilities in which to play sports, but in a less controlled environment.“Society needs more informal gatherings of sport,” he explained. “Sport needs to just be out there and spread about everywhere – it doesn’t have to be a set time with a coach, it should be continuous for everyone.”