International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports, Sharjah 2019
Hundreds of para-athletes from across the globe participated in the eighth edition of International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games hosted by Sharjah between February 10 and 16. Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi, inaugurated the games at the Sharjah Municipality headquarters.
The athletes represented 50 countries from MENA, Asia, Africa, Americas, Europe and West Asia. The World Games were organized under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Federal Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. This marked the second time that IWAS World Games came to Sharjah after its 2011 debut in the Emirate.
President of IWAS Federation, Rudi Van Den Abbeele, said: “The federation is delighted to be in Sharjah once again. More than 500 athletes from 50 countries have been competing eagerly and claiming titles. This edition marks the international debuts of many athletes, whilefor others it will be another important milestone on their journey to be qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. The beauty of IWAS World Games is that it is a melting pot of new and experienced talents that pushes everyone to compete and perform to the best of their abilities.”
Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of the event’s higher organising committee, highlighted Sharjah’s instrumental role in the advocacy for and the support to differently-abled people in all fields, particularly in sports. “Hosting the championship is one of the key steps for Sharjah in sharing its inspiring message to the world, which is to provide competitive opportunities to sportsmen and women with a physical disability. IWAS World Games deeply resonates with the Emirate’s values,” he said.
The athletes participated in seven games including, archery, athletics, badminton, swimming, shooting, table tennis and wheelchair fencing. The games were simultaneously played at three state-of-the-art facilities in Sharjah, namely Al Thiqah Club for Handicapped, American University of Sharjah (AUS) and Al Dhaid Shooting Club.
While athletics and wheelchair fencing drew the most number of athletes, other games like archery, shooting, swimming and badminton had an average of 25 participants each. Around 50 players took part in table tennis.
During the closing ceremony, the vice-chairman of the higher organizing committee, His Excellency Dr. Tariq Sultan bin Khadem, stressed on the importance of such an international competition in nurturing and empowering sportsmen and women, especially the local athletes.
The Emrati sportsmen and women marked their international participation as the top achievers in athletic competitions with 47 medals including 15 golds, 18 silvers, and 14 bronzes.
Local shooters claimed three silver and six bronze medals at the end of competitions with a total tally of 13 medals. The four gold medals were bagged by Emirati shooter Abdullah Said Al Aryani. When asked the secret behind his victory, Abdullah said: “A huge part of my victory was enabled by the fantastic supporters who came in with their positivity and created an electrifying atmosphere fuelling my performance.”
Latifa Al Suwaidi forged her name in history as the first Emirati sportswoman to claim a medal in international para sports by bagging bronze in shooting. Other Emiratis like Noura Al Ktebi and Al Zarouni also shone shone during IWAS World Games by breaking the Asian shot put women’s F32 record and harvesting three golds in badminton respectively.
Meanwhile, the South Korean archers targeted the top positions and took home eight medals consisting of four golds, three silvers and a bronze. They also dominated the table tennis zones bagging 16 medals - seven golds, five silvers and 4 bronzes. The participants from India and Thailand delivered smashing badminton performances with each country claiming four golds, three silvers and two bronzes. The Indian swim team was the fastest to claim 27 medals, while the Thai swimmers remained just a medal behind. The Chinese, Russian and German fencers proved unbeatable. China took home 32 medals consisting of 10 golds, 10 silvers and 12 bronzes, while the Russians secured 18 medals split among 10 gold and eight bronze medals and the Germans bagged six medals evenly divided between gold, silver and bronze.
Throughout the week-long sports extravaganza, all three facilities hosting various games echoed with stories of inspiration. The spirit of the para-athletes was not deterred even for a second by their physical conditions. Neither was the race track too long for the ones with prosthetic legs nor the badminton net too high for those with dwarfism. A 17-year-old with congenital amputation swam like a swift mermaid, while
the wheelchair fencers captivated the audience with their sharp-witted manoeuvres.
One of the youngest participants, 12-year-old Zainab Ali Salman from Bahrain who lost her left hand in an accident recently, was ecstatic to be at her first international badminton competition with her mother. “I train thrice a week with my coach Dana Ali and practice in school as well,” she said. Zainab wants to play badminton professionally and her mother is supportive about it. However, once back home from school, the athlete sits down to complete her homework and eats in controlled quantities without being fussy. Dana informed that para badminton started recently in Bahrain fuelling hopes of many players like Zainab.
Emirati table tennis player Yousuf Rashed Al Kaabi, who won silver in the TT10 category, is also an administrative official at the Ministry of Health. Though he does not have any movement in one of his ankles and has one leg shorter than the other, he does warm ups and tries to remain as calm as possible to keep his head in the game. Revealing an interesting fact about him, Yousuf said: “I have eight brothers, all of whom play table tennis.”
Wheel-chair bound Indian fencer V Ramesh Rao said that his goal “to win at any cost” keeps him focused during the game. “I practice four hours daily and follow a vegetarian diet to train for Paralympics,” said Ramesh, who is also a good volleyball player.
Eakapan Songwichean from Thailand started swimming from the age of eight. Eakapan, who has congenital dysmelia (born without upper limbs) swims in the Thai
national team and loves playing football with his brothers. “To focus, I clear my mind and relax when I am in the water,” he said. He also runs and goes to gym besides taking 10 swimming sessions a week.
The ever-smiling archer from Cyprus, Mario Camprou, said that he practices thrice a week. According to his coach, it is the wheelchair-bound’s positive attitude helps him relax and focus on the target.
Talking to Yoga & Wellness at the sports complex of AUS, Indian badminton team coach Gaurav Khanna expressed mixed emotions: “I am overwhelmed to see such state-of-art facilities for disabled people in Sharjah. I am also jealous because similar infrastructure is not available for the Indian para-athletes. In India, many disabled people give up on their sports dream. Add to this, the lack of sponsors. I am thankful to the Sultan of Sharjah for giving this platform to us and wish that we too had someone like him supporting our para-athletes.”
Behind of the curtains of this successful six-day sports extravaganza were 111 technical and administrative bodies, 39 international judges and observers, 99 local judges, 155 volunteers, 82 members of the opening and closing committee, 120 people from the logistic committee, 80 members of the media committee and 221 members from the
service and support committee.Those who missed out on watching the competitions live or on television; or if you are simply looking for some fitness motivation to get your lazy self out of the house, follow IWAS Federation on Instagram as iwasf for some exclusive snippets. While the para-athletes’ stories are gut-wrenching, their spirit is invincible.