Only Abilities Count When The Game Is On

10 Jun 2015 17:20pm

By Anna Tervahartiala

WINDHOEK, 10 JUN (NAMPA) - A young man makes his way down a stretch of gravel road on the premises of the Katutura Youth Centre in Windhoek. His shadow follows far behind him, in contrast to the weak afternoon sun. The gravel road does not rustle under his steps, but under two wheels.
At the end of the road is a basketball court which is slowly filling with players. Since 2012, the basketball courts of the youth centre have been the training fields of a wheelchair basketball team. The team was founded by two basketball players, Roodley and Agnes.
In the beginning, players trained in their regular wheelchairs with a ball donated to them by fellow players from a neighbouring court.
“I am someone who simply likes to play sports,” Roodley explains.
The will to move and play has kept him and his fellow teammates on the court for almost three years. A team that started with just two members has now grown to a mixed team of 21 players. They practice once a week - every Sunday afternoon between 15h00 and 17h00.
Time on the court is not spent idly. Everyone has come here to practice and no time is wasted.
“Things got properly organised last year,” the coach and manager of the team Bjorn Magg explains. The team has been sponsored from various directions, by local individuals, international donors, as well as Government bodies.
“The most important thing was to receive proper chairs,” Magg says.
By the end of 2014, the team received sports wheelchairs with tilted wheels, a protective edge in front and an extra tyre behind to keep the chairs from tilting backwards.
Before the introduction of sports wheelchairs, the fingers and feet of the players were in constant threat of getting caught between the wheels in collisions. The sports wheelchairs’ design also improved the speed and agility of the players on the court.
The rules of wheelchair basketball are based on the rules of regular basketball.
The notable difference is that when moving with a wheelchair, a player is allowed to make no more than two pushes while holding the ball on their lap.
The size of the court and the height of the hoops are the same as in regular basketball.
Back at the Katutura Youth Centre, the team starts the afternoon by throwing hoops to warm up. Coach Magg takes a seat in a wheelchair and joins the team as a player.
Assisting coach Lawrence Haw takes the lead in the practice. More players join one by one and soon the court is filled with six athletes.
“One of the challenges the players face is getting to the court. For some, taking a taxi is an economic burden, but mostly the problem is finding a taxi driver who takes the time to assist the players to get into and out of the cab,” Magg says.
In spite of the challenges, most of the players see the value of the weekly training. The regularity and quality of the practice has ensured that the players are able to progress as individual athletes and as a team.
“Weekly training keeps me very fit, but it’s also about having fun,” Eliaser, a basketball player who has been training for three years, says.
According to the United Nations, around 10 per cent of the world’s population live with a disability. Although Namibia has both signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the president of Disability Sports Namibia, Charles Nyambe says the country still has a long way to go in order to reach the goals of equality both in everyday life as well as in sports.
According to Nyambe, the main issue related to disability sports is the lack of funding for the equipment needed to practice sports safely.
Even though funding for a sport activity is relatively easy to find, the need for committed sponsors is an issue.
Just like all sports equipment, equipment used in disability sports needs constant maintenance and renewal. At the moment, most of the equipment used has to be imported and thus the expenses of regular practice are often too high for individuals with disabilities to meet.
The second issue related to the development of disability sports in Namibia is the lack of classifiers. Athletes are given classifications according to the level of their disability, which is used to make all athletes equal. At the moment Namibian athletes need to travel abroad in order to receive a classification.
“When our team plays against another team, even though both teams consist of athletes with disabilities, the teams are not equal,” Magg explains.
Final points are only one part of the true score of a disability sports game.
Aside from practical challenges, Nyambe emphasises the need for further awareness building. According to him, discrimination can only be eliminated by knowledge.
“Every Namibian is equal and every Namibian has the equal right to sports,” Nyambe states.
As the evening shadows draw longer, the game tightens. The thumps of the ball, shouts of the players and frequent laughter fills the air.
Despite their physical challenges, on the court it is a different story. Here, there are no disabilities ˗ it is their abilities at this sport that makes the difference.
* The players asked that their surnames not be mentioned.