A Games with a difference

A Games with a difference

They will have to lead blind athletes by the shoulder and get used to using words that do not offend.

These are some of the challenges volunteers face when they guide the athletes around at the ASEAN Para Games and organisers have been conducting training sessions to ensure they will be ready.

There will be more than 3,000 athletes and officials here for the Games, which will feature 15 sports, including swimming, athletics and sailing.

Yesterday, at the OCBC Arena, around 700 volunteers attended a training session which featured aspects like role play - where they had their arms and legs bound to better understand the challenges faced by the athletes.

Deputy chairman of Singapore ASEAN Para Games Organising Committee (Sapgoc), Kerk Kim Por, said they have repeatedly emphasised to the volunteers that they should become ambassadors and reach out to a wider sphere of the public.

"One issue from previous Games that we have studied is that the support level is not really there and the awareness of para sports, para games, is not high, compared with mainstream sporting events," said Kim.

"Therefore, we would need to work doubly hard to make sure we push the news out to make people understand more about disability sports and our athletes."

Organisers initially targeted 3,000 volunteers for the Games, but due to overwhelming response, capped the number at 4,000.

Robert Fuchs, who will be representing Singapore in archery, was surprised by the number.

"Having so many volunteers, I start seeing now that we are not as marginalised as I thought," the 40-year-old said.

"It augurs well as the overall experience of an athlete at an event like the ASEAN Para Games is very much dependent on his or her interaction with the volunteers."

Volunteer John Chia, 39, is a corporate executive in an IT company.

He hopes that disability awareness in the country will grow because of the Games and boost the ongoing effort to integrate people with disabilities.

"Most of the volunteers I have spoken to have said that they've taken back a lot of knowledge on how to interact with disabled people to help them to be more able, but at the same time, you can see that they are still doing things that we are doing to maintain their lives." he said.

The South-east Asia (SEA) Games held here in June was a roaring success, and deputy chairman of the Singapore ASEAN Para Games Organising Committee (Sapgoc), Kerk Kim Por, is determined to ensure the ASEAN Para Games receives a similar report card.

If there was one key lesson he took away from the SEA Games, it would be the level of community engagement it enjoyed.

He highlighted the importance of bringing the sports to life in the community, which means where they live, and not just focus on only certain areas, because the goal is to engage Singaporeans and raise the awareness and profile of the Para Games.

"Once you feel an affinity with the athletes and you really see them as your neighbour and as your friend, then you'll come out and support them," said Kim.

There have already been numerous programmes to heighten the atmosphere leading up to the 8th ASEAN Para Games, which will kick off with the opening ceremony on Dec 3 at the National Stadium.

Buses, trains and taxis have carried advertisements of the Games and organisers have put up billboards and banners featuring Team Singapore athletes in housing estates, schools and ActiveSG centres all over the country.

Athletes have also been visiting schools and invitational events have been held at places like shopping centres.

While December's Games will not be about improving on the SEA Games experience for the spectators, Kim stressed that issues like managing turnout and minimising waiting times will be important.

With tickets to all events being free, the public is encouraged to reserve their seats by indicating their interest beforehand.

A survey found that many people here are still not comfortable interacting with people with disabilities because they do not know how to act, and Sapgoc hopes the Para Games will play a leading role in changing that.

With most of the build-up work only requiring final touches, Kim says the focus now will primarily be on community engagement.

"What's really most important now is going out and engaging the public, to make sure that with the effort put in and with the athletes set to perform at their best, everybody will come forward and back them," said Kim.


This article was first published on October 18, 2015.
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