A cel­e­bra­tion of the hu­man spirit and dig­nity

The Star Malaysia - - Nation -

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.

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