KARACHI: On Monday morning, the KPT Sports Complex, was buzzing with activity in a heartwarming display of athleticism and determination. On its wood-panelled court, Pakistan’s special athletes bounced and ran in a friendly basketball match with their unified partners; people without intellectual disabilities. They were here marking the start of preparations for this year’s Special Olympic World Games in Berlin and were being observed by Canadian coach Glenn Cundari.
Cundari, a seasoned coach with extensive experience in the field, is here on invitation from Special Olympics Pakistan (SOP) and apart from overseeing the training of Pakistan’s special athletes he will also provide training to coaches. “These athletes are an inspiration for us,” Cundari told Dawn, “and working with special children is a privilege.”
From what he’d seen on his first day in Pakistan, Cundari — who won the Canadian national award for ‘Contributions to Coach Development’ — reckons there is a lot of potential. “I observed these players in the basketball match and other sports and they are more than capable to bring some medals home,” he added.
Almost 200 countries will be participating in the Berlin Games, which kick off on June 17 and conclude on June 25.
Pakistan’s athletes will be competing in 11 disciplines including, tennis, table tennis, basketball, futsal, cycling, boche, athletic, badminton, powerlifting, field hockey and swimming.
A delegation of 121 members will travel to the German capital. The delegation includes 51 male athletes and 36 female athletes along with unified partners, 17 male coaches, 13 female coaches, three officials and one doctor.
When the Special Olympics were held last time, in Abu Dhabi four years ago, Pakistan clinched 17 gold medals in a total tally of 67.
Rana Hasan bin Zahid is one of the athletes likely to be a part of the contingent after winning five gold medals in the last year’s National Games in Rawalpindi in the athletics event.
“I have been passionate about the sports since a very young age.” the 23-year-old, who has deficiencies in vision, told Dawn. “I enjoy playing with my colleagues, around my coaches and being around them makes me happy. I’m working hard to be selected and if given the opportunity, I will do my best to make the country proud.”
With Cundari roped in to provide his expertise, a strong showing from Pakistan is expected.
“I was fortunate enough to develop a relation with Special Olympics International which was supporting the project here in Pakistan.” Cundari informed. “Coaches are always looking for more support and as we stared to build relations with SOP chairperson Ms. Ronak Lakhani. I became more interested in taking this assignment and helping the coaches here.”
Cundari will leave Pakistan on Friday and will supervise the training from online platform.
“Training online is definitely less effective than me being personally here but this is the situation at the moment and I will try to make the best of the opportunity,” he added.
Ronak Lakhani, who was honoured with Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2016, said that addition of Cundari will help the athletes prepare better and also would be more supportive for the local coaches.
“The arrival of Cundari to Pakistan is an honour for us.” the SOP chairperson told Dawn. “Cundari will hold seminars on the next two days where he will address on how to enhance the capabilities of critical thinking, mental strength and leadership skills of the coaches which will help them take decisions better.”
But organising activities regularly for the athletes with special needs remains a challenge.
“We don’t get support from the government and we have to organise events like National Games on our own,” SOP’s national director Talha Tahir told Dawn. “We are in talks with Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and we want them to support us.”Taha, however, added that the training camps will continue till the Games.
“We have recently organised national camps and now these camps will be city wise where athletes will be invited,” he informed, adding that apart from cyclists and hockey players, other athletes will continue to train at the KPT Sports Complex.
“We provide training to cyclists near Sea View, Khayaban-e-Sahil while hockey drills and practice sessions are being conducted at the Abdul Sattar Hockey Stadium.”
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2023
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