A celebration of the human spirit and dignity
ON Aug 10, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced Malaysia’s gold medal targets for the SEA Games and Asean Para Games.
The SEA Games contingent needed to rack up at least 111 first-place finishes if we were to be the overall champions.
Our athletes outdid themselves. With a haul of 145 gold medals, Malaysia became the runaway No.1, and we got a public holiday in the bargain.
For the Asean Para Games, which starts today, the hope is that come Sept 23, our competitors will have 103 gold medals or more, and that the haul will be enough to propel Malaysia to second place.
It is not a matter of expecting less from our para athletes. We can be sure that each of them will give his all during the competition; we can ask nothing more of them.
However, we have to accept that Thailand is the overwhelming favourite, having won six of the eight Asean Para Games so far, including the previous one in Singapore in 2015.
It is important that the Games be appreciated as something far bigger than a platform for regional sports rivalry and national pride.
This year’s Asean Para Games features 16 sports in which men and women with disabilities compete, in teams or individually, to see who comes out on top.
Time and distance recorded, goals scored, points earned and weights lifted will separate the winners and losers. That is no different from other multisport events.
But this is only half the story. The victory of a para athlete is not just determined by a stopwatch, measuring tape or scorelines. Being chosen to represent his country in a sport is already a triumph.
Long before he lines up against an opponent in an arena, the para athlete must first deal with his impairment and the obstacles and prejudice that come with it. Unfortunately, there are no medals for this.
How do you measure the hurt and disappointment of a disabled child who is not allowed to play with the others because he cannot run as fast, hit as hard or jump as high?
How do you keep score of the numerous times a disabled person is made to feel useless and helpless?
How do you award points when a para athlete fights through exhaustion, pain, physical limitations and yes, doubt, to be ready to compete with the best? And how do you assign a value to a para athlete’s ability to overturn stereotypes, delight crowds and inspire people?
It is fitting that the International Paralympic Committee, organiser of the summer and winter Paralympic Games, focuses on the core values of determination, equality, inspiration and courage.
Courage, says the committee, is when para athletes, through their performances, showcase to the world what can be achieved when testing your body to its absolute limits.
On determination, it has this to say: “Para athletes have a unique strength of character that combines mental toughness, physical ability and outstanding agility to produce sporting performances that regularly redefine the boundaries of possibility.”
Ultimately, the Asean Para Games is a celebration of the human spirit and dignity, and there is much we can learn from the Games.
And if the Malaysian contingent surpasses its target, that simply means we have yet another great reason to celebrate our para athletes’ achievements.
Long before he lines up against an opponent in an arena, the para athlete must first deal with his impairment and the obstacles and prejudice that come with it.