BEATING THE ODDS
Nearly 1,000 disabled athletes will be competing in the biggest-ever Asean ParaGames which begins tomorrow in Nakhon Ratchasima
Story By KITTIPONG THONGSOMBAT
From tomorrow until January 27, disabled people will be demonstrating what they can do in sports during the 4th Asean ParaGames in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The biennial event is for people with physical disabilities and is organised after the SEA Games by the same host nation like other multi-sports tournaments such as the Olympics and the Asian Games.
The Asean ParaGames was launched in 2001 - 42 years after the first SEA Games was held in 1959 when it was known as the SEAP Games.
The ParaGames' main objectives are to promote friendship among the disabled, develop sports for them and integrate them into normal society.
The theme for the 4th Asean ParaGames is "Friendship, Equality and Opportunity."
Thai team manager Nuanphan Lamsam said the Games would play an important role in helping the disabled and encouraging them to lead a happy life.
"After from giving them an opportunity to play sports, the Games will help raise awareness about people with disabilities among normal people," she said.
"We want to improve the quality of their lives and social status."
According to Osod Pawilai, president of the Association of the Disabled of Thailand (ADT), there are around 6-8% of disabled people in each country while there are about 350,000 registered disabled persons in Thailand.
He said the ParaGames had made progress in recent years and Thailand was ready to be a good host.
"Everything is ready for the Games. One good thing about this Games is the athletes stay in the same area - the Athletes' Village," Osod said.
"The stadia are wonderful. They needed only minor changes to make them suitable for the disabled."
All competition venues are the same as those used at last month's SEA Games so there is no problem about budget.
"We asked the government for 217 million baht to organise the event but we got only 150 million baht. But this is enough because we use the existing venues for the SEA Games," he said.
More than 900 athletes and 400 officials from 11 countries are taking part in the Games making it the biggest-ever ParaGames.
There are 14 sports compared to 10 at the 2005 Games and two (swimming and athletics) at the inaugural tournament in 2001.
At the SEA Games, an event must have at least three participants with the third-place finisher not awarded a bronze.
However, at the ParaGames, an event with only one participant is allowed on condition that the athlete has to break the record to get the gold medal.
As for the Thai squad, Nuanphan said that every Thai athlete was in good shape and ready to bring glory to the country.
"We began our training on September 1. Everyone is raring to go," she said.
With 293 athletes, Thailand aim to win 150 out of 186 gold medals up for grabs in the tournament. They may miss the target but it is almost certain that the kingdom will top the medal table. "We are almost certain to finish first overall. But it will be good if we can do better than the last time when we won 157 golds," Nuanphan said.
The government has set a bonus scheme for Thailand's successful athletes at the Games with a champion getting 50,000 baht, a silver medallist 30,000 baht and a bronze winner 15,000 baht.
Nuanphan calls for Thai fans to watch the Games and support both local and foreign participants.
"It is not as competitive as the SEA Games but it is entertaining. You can enjoy watching it," she said.
Support from fans will make the disabled realise that they are not living alone in society, and encourage them to mingle with other people.
Bangkok Post Jan. 19, 2008