By Karim Abdul
Farewell then to the Rio Olympic Games. In come Rio Paralympics summer games. The flag has been handed on; athlete’s attention will now turn to preparing for the next festival of sport in Tokyo in four years’ time. Paralympics showcase narrative promises to keep pace with the remarkable just concluded showcase of 2016 Rio summer games where records tumbled and some sporting greats made history.
Get ready for the intense excitement of 23 Paralympic sports. 528 events over the course of 11 days of competition which will yield 225 medals for women, 265 for men and 38 mixed medals.
The 2016 Summer Paralympics multi-sports events are the fifteenth games. Governed by the International Paralympic Committee, the athletes with disability shall gather in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, from 7 September to 18 September 2016, making them the first Summer Paralympics to be held during the host city’s wintertime. This will mark the first time a Latin American and South American city hosts the event. These Games will see the introduction of two new sports to the Paralympic program: canoeing and the triathlon.
Hadafo a Somali born 19 year Old who is based in Italy agreed to represent his country after he was approached by the Somalia Paralympics committee to represent his country.
When the Committee led by Secretary General Ali came knocking Farhan coach heeded to the call and accepted that he represents Somalia. However the task that lay ahead of him was uphill. The International Paralympic Committee accepted Somalia’s request but on one condition, that the athlete goes through qualification since he had not taken part in any official Tournament.
Hadafo took part in a Tournament held in Italy in March 2016 and qualified to take part in an International Event. Fast-forward and Hadafo shall carry the Somalia flag with eyes set on a bag full of Gold medals in 100m and 400m which he shall be taking part in.
Disability is not Inability
Hadafo knows no other way of expressing himself as he was born with his disability. As the narrative goes to achieve anything in life you must be willing to walk the talk, this narrative has become clear to me now after a candid chat with Ali Ahmed Mohamud, Secretary General- Somali National Paralympics Committee.
The Arsenal supporter who has represented his country in various sports disciplines did not stop at that, through his efforts Hadafo visited his mother country Somalia for the first time in 18 years. A journey that would saw him reconnect with his people and visit his Country which is experiencing relative stability after years of civil war. That there is a confession Journey that will culminate in Somalia’s flag once again flying high in Rio the venue for the 2016 Paralympic games.
Why do you have to go all the way to Italy to get an athlete to represent his Country? I pose the question to Ahmed Ali who has previously represented his country in football national team as a goalkeeper. “We did not have enough time to extensively recruit the team, we have a group of blind athletes who were training to play goalball but they have not qualified yet to take part in such event like Paralympics but moving forward even as we look ahead to the next Olympics in Japan we are planning to meet all the standards so that local Somalia’s can represent their country” said a jovial Ali.
During this interview we are interrupted by several fans among them Journalists who want to take a selfie with Ali Ahmed, they remember him from his various assignments representing his Country. Ali shares with me his pictures taken while playing for the National Basketball team which has seen him travel to uncountable Countries wearing the national uniform.
“The disabled people deserve a right to represent their country and to be treated with dignity, the society tends to shun them away, I feel that they have the right to participate in any event May it be social, sports anything. There is a saying that says that disability is not inability the world in now recognizing that there are more talents in them than even the able bodied persons” says Ali.
2016 Paralympics games organising team has been making headlines lately for the bad things. Funding is a major concern. Ali concurs that it has not been an easy road so far. The funding of travel arrangements for Hadafo, his coach and the officials stay at the Olympic village did not come easy. “When you arrange for fund raising for the team there is always a question of people asking why are you hurting these people, they are already in pain we don’t know that sport, these are some of the responses we get from prospective funders.”
“Thanks to Premier Bank they have wholeheartedly sponsored the team for Rio Paralympic games. We want to thank them very much. Somalia flag shall be flying in Rio because of their generous contribution”
As in past years, the 2016 Summer Paralympics will share most of its venues with the Olympics. Barra da Tijuca will host most of the venues of the Games; the rest will be located in Copacabana Beach, Maracana and Deodoro; Barra da Tijuca will also house the Olympic Village. The opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Paralympics will take place on the evening of 7 September 2016 at the Maracana Stadium
Canoeing will make its Paralympic debut in Rio and Great Britain will be one of only two nations, along with Australia, to have a full quota of six boats in action. Back home the Somali Paralympic committee comprised of mostly members who are disabled themselves has laid down a mission, a strategy that shall embark on public awareness to encourage the disabled to come out and take part in various sporting activities. “Earlier we had some of the meetings with key figures as well as disability schools and organisations that help the disabled people to introduce this new sport to Somalia people which is not new in the world but it’s new in Somalia”
Farhan Hadafo has the advantage of superior facilities because he lives in Italy which shall come as an added advantage when he reaches the Olympic village. However the village has specialised facilities that are friendly to the disabled athletes. However Ali tells me that the Federation has made adequate arrangements for the sole Somali athlete in Rio 2016 Paralympics games representative stay in Rio, his competing wheelchair and also the one he uses for moving around.
Future Plans for Somali Paralympic team
The future is not clear especially for the disabled talented athletes in Somalia. The situation could be different for Hadafo due his access to good facilities, What about the local based disabled athletes who are willing to represent their country? I asked Ali
“We have approached the Ministry of sports, the International Paralympic committee to consider setting aside funds to help build facilities unique to the disabled people. The local businessmen are beginning to set aside some of their CSR budgets to help in this noble course for example Premier Bank we hope that they understand what we are doing is important”
The issue of religion in sports has recently come to limelight with pictures circulating in social media of an athlete taking part in beach volleyball clad in a hijab against one clad in bikini, this puts a spotlight into gender in sports as well as religion. I brought about this issue across to 32 year old Ali who is one of the youngest in the federation and also a Muslim.”I believe that women should be given equal chance to participate in sports, when it comes to issue of religion and culture women can participate in sports wearing hijab there is nothing wrong with that, we believe in respect and dignity of everyone needs” asserts Ali who has a Sports Management degree done in collaboration with Somali Olympic committee and sponsored by International Olympic committee.
Watch out for… Rio Paralympics to welcome refugee team
As was the case at the Olympics, a refugee team has been formed. Syrian-born swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein and Iranian discus thrower Shahrad Nasajpour will compete at this summer’s Paralympics.
As a young boy Al Hussein had a dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer, drawing inspiration from his father who was a swimming coach. However, those dreams were rocked by the war in Syria and, in 2012, disaster struck for Al Hussein.
Al Hussein was granted asylum by Greece in 2014 and went on to join a disabled athletes club, starting the journey he will complete by competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle swimming events at Rio 2016.
He was given the honor of carrying the Olympic torch in the build-up to the game and paraded it with pride through the Elaionas camp in Athens, which houses 1,500 refugees.
His teammate, Shahrad Nasajpour, is a discus thrower from Iran now based in the United States. She suffers from cerebral palsy and will compete in the F37 discus event in Rio.