Consider a sporting academy for para-athletes: Bolaira

As the Paralympics 2024 draw near, a National Council for Persons with Disabilities committee member has suggested a sporting academy be established to improve inclusion and participation for members of the community living with disability.

Speaking at a roundtable facilitated by the French Embassy in Suva this week, Sakiusa Bolaira, noted, “One thing I’ve been exploring, is how to open and unlock the potential when there are different silos of events happening.”

He continued: “I think it’s about time we start consolidating and having a framework like a sporting academy, where we nurture and build our athletes to make sure they are ready for international sporting events.”

Bolaira believes there are many experts and methods that can be implemented to ensure the independence of both the operational and financial sectors within the academy.

Meanwhile, the Central Division Manager at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Etuate Bari, noted: “Participating in sports can be very expensive, and this can be especially true for athletes living with disabilities. This can be true for athletes with disabilities who may require a specific technique, and those areas really need balance.

“Then we have the normal [barriers], which are cultural and social barriers that people living with disabilities face, like discrimination and stigma, which can make it difficult for them to participate in sports.”

The panel event was well attended by experts and professionals eager to learn more, and willing to help.

French Ambassador, François-Xavier Léger, told them that the Paralympic Games experience changes mindsets and can improve society in a sustainable way.

“This improvement of our society in relation to disability and sport is something we can all contribute to; we must encourage the practise of sport by people living with disabilities.”

Some participants asked what suggestions could be made to a review committee to help address issues that seem to have been ongoing for years.

Makarita Tikoduadua, an executive with the Ministry of Health, stated the importance of including culture and including locals in the process of any discussion.

Tikoduadua said, “To make any intervention into society, we need to localise it, instead of bringing international standards and trying to implement them with our locals, it will not work.”

She noted the mindset of viewing sports as entertainment, asking how parasport could be made as entertaining as other sports?

A former gold and silver medalist at the Fiji Games and the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled, Fred Fatiaki is one of the first coaches in Fiji with a visible disability. He pointed out that, from an organisational point of view, there are several mechanisms in place to improve inclusion.

Fatiaki said, “The mechanism we are trying to put in place dates back five to six years. We visit special schools, work closely with our special school (17 special schools in Fiji), and this is where we try to identify and get opportunities for children in special schools.

“Also, in the pipeline, we encourage them to grow their pathways, something dependable and one that creates a better opportunity for them for a brighter future.”

The Paralympics will be held in Paris next year from 28 August to 8 September.