International Paralympic Committee president pushes for development of Nepali athletesSports can be a strong medium to help the differently-abled athletes to rehabilitate themselves in society.
International Paralympics Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons came to Nepal for a three-day visit on Friday. The 42-year-old joined the Brazilian Paralympics Committee as an intern in 1997. Later he served in various positions at Brazilian Paralympic Committee including general secretary and president. He was elected the IPC President in September 2017. The Post's Prajwal Oli caught up with the Brazilian before he left Nepal on Sunday. Excerpts.
What is the purpose of your visit to Nepal?
My objective is to know about the situation of the Paralympics in Nepal. To know about the challenges and the opportunities and learn how the national Paralympics committee operates in Nepal. The idea is to build a stronger relationship with our members and understand how we can better support them through our programmes and projects we have. But to do that we have to know them better.
How did you find the situation of Paralympics in Nepal?
They have many challenges. One of the main issues is that they don't have funding. But we know that there is a new sports law in the parliament being discussed. So we hope that new law can help change the situation. In lack of funding, they cannot make short, medium and long-term plans. We have Paralympics Games every four years and we are talking about how to qualify for the Games. Nepal doesn't have funding even for day to day operation to run the national paralympic committee. With the new law being passed, hopefully, the situation will change and they will get more recognition from the government.
How can sports be helpful to bring positive changes to the differently-abled athletes?
It is the rights of every individual to embrace sports. Sports can be a strong medium to help the differently-abled athletes to rehabilitate themselves in society. Elite competition can help change the perception of the person with disabilities. Normally when an athlete competes in big Paralympics games like Olympics, you can find changes in society and attitude to watch an individual with disability. This leads to big changes in society. For example, after the London Olympics in 2012, now we have one million more people with disability earning their livelihoods. The Paralympics Games helped change the mentality of people in the UK and they have opened the doors for them in the labour market. Things like this are directly connected with the Paralympics movement.
Society, in general, sees people with disabilities with the idea that they cannot contribute much. But when they see them practising sports, their attitude changes. If a blind person can run 100m in less than 11 seconds then he can do whatever he wants. In the same way, when a female wheelchair racer can push her wheelchair for 42km race, it gives a strong message that she is capable of achieving anything in life. It helps to change the mentality. And to change the perception, you need to first change the mentality of people.
Even the abled-athletes in the country do not have basic sporting facilities in Nepal. In such a scenario, how would you expect the Paralympics to grow here?
I am aware of the problems here, especially related to facilities or infrastructure. But if you have athletes competing in the Paralympics Games and if you have them recognised at the government level, it helps change the situation. It will not happen overnight or in a short span of time. It takes years to get attention from the local government. It’s a process that needs to start and the best way to do so is by strengthening the national paralympic committee. It is very important for Nepali athletes to compete in Paralympics Games, Asian Paralympics Games or any other international events so as to help draw public attention. The day we succeed to multiply athletes in thousands here, there will be pressure for the local authorities to build facilities for para-athletes and make sports more accessible for them.
Nepal is scheduled to host the South Asian Games on December 1-10. Do you have any plan in facilitating such multi-event sports in the South Asian region?
I think it is super important to have such regional games. In other regions of Asia, they do have such Games. In South-East Asia, they have South-East Asian Paralympics Games. In South Asia, we still don't have Para version of Games but it is fundamental for the growth of the games. We can start with a few events in the South Asian Games.
We are always in contact with the Asian Paralympic Committee to try to help such things materialise. But in order to achieve that first, we need to strengthen the national paralympic committees of the region. We have to support member associations of these countries and strengthen them so that we can lobby for such events.
Where do you see Nepal as a Paralympics nation in Asia?
I think Nepal has good athletes and good people in the national committee. I don't like to rank countries. In Asia, we have very strong countries. China is the world powerhouse in Paralympics. We also have Japan, who is hosting the Paralympic Games next year. I don’t think it is important to compare Nepal with the rest of the Asian nations but it will be relevant to see where the Himalayan national was two years ago, and where will it in the next two years in terms of Paralympics development. The important thing is to identify, support and monitor the potential athletes. We want Nepal to rise to the next level of development.
Powerful sporting bodies like FIFA and the International Olympic Council have been tarnished by corruption scandals in the past. How clean is the International Paralympics Committee?
People see our organisation positively. We never have any problem with corruption or lack of transparency. When the doping scandal arose during the Sochi Games, we were the ones to take a firm stance. We want to have members and athletes in our decision-making process and make then engage. To us, Nepal is as important as China, Australia or the United States. There is no single national paralympic committee that is less important than the other.
Do you have any short or long term plan to support para-athletes of Nepal?
We have the Agitos Foundation which supports different programmes and members around the world. Nepal has already benefitted from some of our programmes which provided two swimmers opportunities to compete in the World Para Swimming in London. Nepal also got a chance to participate in the organisational capacity-building programme in Singapore. I came to Nepal to gather more information and understand the situation better. I will be going back to Germany in our head office so that we can map out a plan for the development of Nepal.
Is it right for an abled individual like yourself to lead the Paralympic movement meant for the differently-abled athletes?
I think we need the right people in any organisation in the world. You don't need to be women to defend female rights. You don't need to be gay to defend LGBTI rights. So, I don't believe I need to be someone with impairment to lead the International Paralympic Committee. The first person to say me that I should think to lead IPC was the former president Philip Craven, who was a wheelchair user. He competed in five different Paralympic Games in wheelchair basketball. I have faced this question during my entire career. I think I am doing a good job as IPC president.