Ganesh Singh, Programme Coordinator at the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities, notes that persons have greater challenges to accessing sport depending on what classification of disability they have.
“There is a barrier, and that barrier is because sports is not something that is introduced very early in the lives of people who have congenital disabilities. Those who are born with disabilities, they’re not exposed to sport.”
To combat this, the GCOPD are calling for sporting bodies to make greater efforts to include persons with disabilities within their respective sports.
“Persons without disabilities, from the time you’re like 5, 6, your parents might give you a bat or you start playing cricket in the community or some football. You get involved in sports very young. Whether it’s karate or even any other sport, you get exposed very young. But for children with disabilities it’s not so.” Singh said.
Singh also notes that most local sports are also not equipped to facilitate persons with mobility issues.
“So when they grow up to be teenagers or young adults, they have little or no interest in sports. And even if they do, there’s not much for them to get involved in.”
The National Paralympic Committee, Special Olympics Committee and the Guyana Blind Cricket Association are among local sporting bodies that support persons with disabilities.
There are also no local sports specific to persons with disabilities, aside from blind cricket which has not been active since the onset of the pandemic. The Guyana Blind Cricket Association has been around for the past 16 years developing the sport.
Singh has also worked with the Special Olympic Committee which deals specifically with persons with intellectual disabilities.
“But people who would have acquired disabilities, they would have had that opportunity to be exposed in sport and probably played sports, before they would have gotten those disabilities, and hence they tend to do better and keep up their involvement.”
However, he said the National Paralympic Committee does not do enough to develop Paralympic sports locally and is in need of a complete revamp.
Singh also says there are currently plans to develop Goalball in Guyana.
This is a Paralympic sport for athletes with vision impairments.
According to Paralympics Australia, the object of the game is to roll the ball into the opponent’s goal while the opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies. Bells inside the ball help orientate the players by indicating the direction of the oncoming ball.
On a positive note, he praised archery Guyana for the development of their para-archery committee. He highlighted efforts they have made in the past to get visually impaired persons involved in the sport, noting that this is an example of how other sports can make efforts to include persons with disabilities.
Notably, many of Guyana’s top athletes with disabilities who regularly compete in either local or international events are persons with acquired disabilities.
Among them is Walter Grant-Stuart, Guyana’s first and only athlete to ever compete in the Paralympic games.
Ganesh Singh’s personal story highlights this as well, “I acquired blindness at 17. I isolated myself because of feeling ashamed an all of that for 5 years. But because of my passion for cricket, and because I played cricket at the youth level before I got blind – when I heard of blind cricket in 2006, I was excited and that was one of the pivotal moments in my life.”
“Because of blind cricket, I got involved and reintegrated into society.”
Singh's experience further underscores the importance of persons with disabilities being able to access sport, not only for rehabilitative purposes, but also as a tool for empowerment and social cohesion.
This can be accomplished by making sport more accessible, whether in competitive or recreational capacities.