To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, the International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (INAS) has announced the first athlete and administrator #SportChampions who will take part in its #WeAreSport project in 2018.
Through the programme, INAS aims to help female athletes to use social and other media to show their life as a high performance sportsperson. This will make them more visible and raise their profile so that they can become role models for the next generation.
In addition, the project will train administrators from INAS members in how to develop pathways to get more women and girls with intellectual impairments into sport.
So far South Korea, Argentina, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ecuador and Australia have officially signed up. The athletes nominated are some the brightest young stars from each country including Paralympians and INAS world champions.
Egypt, the USA, South Africa, France, Thailand, India and Sweden have also expressed an interest in taking part, and are going through the nomination process.
Applications are still open as INAS aims to recruit 20 athletes and the same number of administrators in total.
London 2012 Paralympic champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist Jessica-Jane Applegate will be the face of #WeAreSport.
As one of the world’s best swimmers, the 21-year-old is a great example of how female athletes can use social media to promote themselves. With nearly 50,000 followers across platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Applegate shares updates about her training and competitions and regularly engages with her fans.
Describing some of the challenges in sport for athletes with intellectual impairments, Applegate said:
“Getting into sport is easy but staying in sport is really hard. Anyone can turn up to a session and give it a go but what I found difficult was that I looked the same as everyone else so everyone else expected so much more from me.
“I couldn’t understand lots of the instructions and couldn’t communicate back how or what I didn’t understand. It takes me a lot longer to learn new things and unless you have support from your coaches and club members it’s a huge stress and struggle.
“Many clubs and coaches are trained now to support children just like me and it’s really important that we all have that equal opportunity to join in. There are not enough learning disabled girls in sports so there’s a huge gap in the competitions.
“I would love to see more girls competing and am happy to help any of them.”
Robyn Smith, INAS Vice President, said: “We are absolutely delighted to welcome the first athletes and administrators who will take part in #WeAreSport. It is so important that we give both groups the tools to develop themselves and sport for women and girls in their countries.
“Jessica-Jane has perfectly described some of the issues faced by countries in developing their programmes. This includes barriers unique to areas of sport for athletes with intellectual impairments, such as a lack of understanding around their needs. We also need more role models to inspire the next generation.
“The project aims to start to address the gender imbalance that exists across the world, both at the INAS and Paralympic level. In turn that will increase the depth of field at competitions and make our sports more competitive all-round.
“We know that it can be a challenge for countries to find ways of including athletes with intellectual impairments and for athletes to promote themselves. But these are obstacles worth overcoming and ones that we are firmly aiming to address.”
The first activities for #WeAreSport will take place in June 2018 including a training webinar for the athletes and administrators. Each athlete will also receive a specially designed media pack containing their biography, pictures and graphics they can share on social media.
The administrators will be given materials and guidance to help them attract female athletes to try sports. As part of their commitment they will deliver at least one development workshop in their country for women and girls.
The project is mainly focused on Asia, Oceania and Africa but athletes and personnel from other regions will also be included.
Activities will climax on the 2018 International Day of Sport for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments on 20 September.
#WeAreSport is supported by a grant from the Agitos Foundation, the development arm of the International Paralympic Committee. It is co-funded by Sport Inclusion Australia.
Confirmed athlete #SportChampions
|Athlete||Eligibility group||Country||Age||Sport||Career highlights|
|Moi Yan Ting Danielle||II1/S14||Singapore||19||Swimming||2017 Asian Youth Para Games medallist (silver 100m butterfly, bronze 100m backstroke, 200m freestyle)|
|Melanie Fernandez||II1/T20||Argentina||15||Athletics||Participation in World Para Athletics Junior Championships|
|Jade Lucy||II1/S14||Australia||21||Swimming||INAS Global Games champion (100m, 400m, 800m, freestyle) and INAS world champion (200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle)|
|Poleth Mendes||II1/F20||Ecuador||22||Athletics||Paralympian and silver medallist in shot put F20 at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships|
|Yang Hee Seo
|II1/class 11||South Korea||31||Table tennis||2014 Asian Para Games (bronze women’s singles)|
|Caitlyn Sharp||II1||Australia||15||Athletics||INAS world champion (high jump)|
|Wong Pui Kei||II1/class 11||Hong Kong||20||Table tennis||2017 INAS World Table Tennis Championships (silver women’s doubles, bronze women’s singles, gold women’s team, gold junior doubles, gold junior team, silver junior singles)|