Some time back I discovered that the IOC session was to be staged in Durban with the highlight being the announcement of the host for the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Everyone who is anyone (from an IOC point of view) rolls into the respective host city and, most importantly from my perspective, my old friend and working colleague, the recently knighted Sir Philip Craven and his good wife Lady Craven would be arriving – he in his capacity as President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Always realising the value of contact, relationships and partnerships, I discussed the visit with SASCOC and recommended that we should host Sir Philip for a few days and, perhaps, set the scene for him to engage with the South African Paralympic Team sponsors. After all, it is the sponsors who ensure the participation of these champions at the “Greatest Show on Earth”! As he is British, it would also be great to get insight into London 2012 preparations as well as an update on attitudes and trends from around theglobe.

Sir Philip and I worked together on the IPC marketingcommittee in 1999 / 2000 and he went on to succeed Dr Robert Steadward as President of IPC. Steadward was a politician; Craven is a hands-on, brash, bold and yet sensitive President who, in my opinion, has the added advantage of having an impairment (he loathes and refuses to use the word disability) having had a rock climbing accident at the age of 16 that left him in a wheelchair. I say “advantage” as I believe it’s appropriate for the head of such a global organisation to be able to “walk the talk” (no pun intended)!

It was refreshing to share some insights and observations with this well travelled President and the most interesting topic was that of inclusion - another term that he dislikes intensely. For those not in the loop, inclusion is the term loosely used implying that athletes with disabilities should be included with main stream sport – a model that in practise sounds great but can it really work when one digs a little deeper?

Sports Federations in general are receptive to including athletes with disabilities in their programs though many are understandably naïve and often intimidated when it comes to practice – particularly when dealing with the more severely disabled – as an example quadriplegics, cerebral palsy etc – not to mention the designer sports that are played at World Championships and Paralympic level. Here I am talking in the main about boccia, wheelchair rugby and goalball as good examples. Sure, swimmers with disabilities can compete with (not necessarily against) their able bodied counterparts, as can cyclists, table tennis players etc but what of these marginalised groups who also aspire to competing at the highest level in their chosen (and often restricted) disciplines?

Not every athlete is an Oscar Pistorius, Fanie Lombaard, Natalie du Toit or Zanele Situ. There are those who are more severely disabled though champions in their own right. Is it fair to expect conventional and traditional able-bodied sports federations to take on the complexities thatsurround sports for athletes with disabilities? It probably is but the question needs to be asked: how do you implement the process and lead it from the front?This is where SASCOC needs to play a major role and contract the likes of theSouth African Sports Association for Physically Disabled (SASAPD) - pioneers in their trade in SA - and give them the mandate to provide technical, andclassification, information and monitoring to the federations who are often willing though, by their own admission, lack the expertise.

Sir Philip concurred that this is an area of grave concern in many IPC countries across the globe. He mentioned that there are a few countries paving the way with Holland being the leading light. I have worked with the Dutch before and have always admired their tenacity and willingness to share. I actually swam in the 1980 Paralympics at Arnhem and experienced their passion first hand – I also experienced copious amounts of the beverage sponsor’s Grolsch beer at those gamesbut need not expand on that aspectin this article!!!

This conversation with the President was so pertinent. It is no secret that the likes of SASAPD are losing their profile and recognition for their hard work in providing the platform for future stars to perform at the likes of Paralympic Games and I fear that, if this area is not addressed immediately, the pipeline of champions from a South African point of view will diminish after the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In the meantime, let’s acknowledge the Team sponsors who were treated to an audience with Sir Philip and Lady Craven. Mercedes–Benz South Africa, Nedbank, Pick n Pay, Sasol, Telkom, Vodacom and Sun International- take a bow for providing South African athletes with disabilities these amazing opportunities!

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