Fri, May 25, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Poor countries miss out as Paralympic Games change

Reuters, PHNOM PENH

Cambodian wheelchair racer Van Vun, 26, trains in Phnom Penh on May 14.

Photo: Reuters

Impoverished Cambodia has thousands of disabled athletes, the legacy of war, revolution, land mines along disputed borders and inadequate healthcare, but only one will be in Britain for the Paralympic Games this year.

“I am very excited to compete in a big country like this,” said 30-year-old short-distance runner Thim Senghon, handicapped from birth, who will represent Cambodia at the games starting in August.

Speaking by telephone from Australia where she is training, Thim Senghon said she would be using an old prosthetic limb that helped her win a gold and two silver medals at regional games in Indonesia. It was donated years ago by a Norwegian sponsor.

“I want to win, I train hard, but I’ve got little hope of winning a medal,” she said, adding that part of the problem was that a new, lighter artificial leg would cost thousands of US dollars, well out of her reach.

Since athletes wanting to compete in the Games have to meet certain qualifying standards, those from poorer countries often miss out simply because they cannot afford the best equipment.

The International Paralympics Committee can offer a “wild card” to a few athletes from countries where none qualify on the normal criteria, but that leaves many disappointed, such as wheelchair racer Van Vun, 26, disabled since having polio at the age of three.

“I was told I was going to compete in England and later they told me that they only needed one,” he said, referring to a message he got from a local sports federation.

“I’m very upset because I want to compete in a big event,” said Van Vun, who has won two silver medals at a regional event.

Australian Christopher Minko, secretary-general of Cambodia National Volleyball League (Disabled), has another complaint: His sport is not even in the Games even though all that is needed is a ball and net, so it is popular in poorer countries.

“The big problem now with the Paralympic Games is that it’s changed; it’s become a game that’s dominated by technology. They’re putting new sports in and throwing old sports out,” he said.

A lot of the simple, traditional sports has been replaced by replaced by relatively expensive sports such as rowing and equestrian golf, he said, adding the event was now “just becoming a game for rich nations.”

The absence of volleyball is all the more distressing because Cambodia is ranked No. 2 in the world, behind Germany, Minko said.

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