Special Olympics Bhutan (SO Bhutan) conducted a three-day national seminar for coaches in collaboration with Special Olympics Bharat from February 24-26 in Thimphu.

The seminar was aimed at providing athletes with intellectual disabilities an equal opportunity and year-round training through sports.

More than 20 SEN teachers, coaches, athletes, and officials from Draktsho took part in the seminar that focused on leadership orientation, unified sports, sports safety, and Special Olympics divisioning.

Special Olympics Unified Sports is a sports initiative that brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together in the same team to compete. The initiative involves Special Olympics divisioning that considers the abilities of athletes to enhance level-playing field.

The seminar also introduced bocce balls, a new sport that can be played individually or as a team. The game, popular among senior citizens, can be played by the persons living with disabilities.

Sports director of SO Bhutan, Deki Zam, said that they focused on sports as a medium to showcase the ability of those living with intellectual disabilities. “We talk mostly about disability but not on the ability. Sports enhance their self-esteem and boost confidence. Sports give them a platform to talk to people.”

She added that the people should not take the persons living with intellectual disabilities for granted. “They should be given equal opportunities. We should respect, believe, and have fate in them. Sometimes they do better than us.”

Deki Zam said that most families miss out early interventions on disabilities because they face difficulty in accepting that their child has a disability.

Chairman of Special Olympic Bharat, Ph.D Kartikay Saini, said that the Special Olympics athletes require an opportunity to play. “We should also include the person without disabilities with the athletes with intellectual disabilities to let them understand and help athletes lead an independent life.”

He added: “I think Bhutan has more children with intellectual disabilities than it is on the record. People do not know how to diagnose in the rural areas. There should be an effort from the government to reach out to these children, identify them and put them into daycare.”

SO Bhutan will take around four athletes to take part in Special Olympics summer world games 2019 that will be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

SO Bhutan plans to expand the movement to other parts of dzongkhags and raise awareness. Currently, SO Bhutan partners with Changangkha Lower Secondary School in Thimphu for the unified sports.

Pelden, 36, an athlete who took part in world games twice said that the opportunity helped him meet new friends and experience new things. “I was weak before when I did not play physical activities. I am improved and am much strong now.”

Sports director at Special Olympics Bharat, Victor Vaz, said that it is important for the person living with disabilities to utilize the energy stored.

SO Bhutan has more than 500 athletes registered to date and more than 40 coaches working voluntarily with the organisation.

The annual national sports events for the athletes with intellectual disabilities cover track and field events. SO Bhutan organised first national Special Olympics national events in 2012 after its athletes won medals from Special Olympics world games in Athens, Greece.

Close to five athletes took part in the first Special Olympics 2011 in Greece and in Los Angeles, the USA in 2015. The athletes have won 10 medals at the international sports events to date.

However the organisation is faced with the financial and infrastructure constraints while trying to expand the movement.