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Everyone is a winner in Azerbaijan Children Paralympic Games

© UNICEF Azerbaijan/Karimova/2016
Two boys with visual impairment play goalball at the Second Paralympic Games for Children. Goalball is a game played with a ball and designed for people with vision impairments.

By Elena Ostapenko

The Second Children Paralympic Games in Azerbaijan demonstrated both the talent of the young athletes competing in the event and the benefits sport can have for children with disabilities.

SUMGAYIT, Azerbaijan, 5 December 2016 – “I didn`t have any goals before. But now, I want to play and be the best.” That is the aspiration of 15-year-old Rufat Bayramov, one of the champions of the Second Children’s Paralympics Games in Azerbaijan.

The Games were held at the Paralympic Sports Complex in Sumqayit about 30 km from the country’s capital Baku. Seventy children competed at beginner level in five different categories: judo, swimming, table tennis, boccia and goalball.


Winning spirit

There were 14 champions at the games, including 13-year-old table tennis player Aytac Gasimli who came in first place for two consecutive years. She took up table tennis at her father`s suggestion who used to be a professional player himself.

“I`m very happy about my winning! I will participate in the games next year as well. I want to be a coach in the future,” says Aytac. She will compete in the adult Paralympic Games in two years and she believes that she is ready for it.

Her coach, Rugiya Gubushova, believes Aytac has the talent to one day take her place among the Paralympic champions of Azerbaijan. This year, 22 competitors from Azerbaijan took part in the Rio Paralympic Games and came back with 11 medals.

Rufat Bayramov plays boccia and his coaches and psychologists agree that his participation is having a noticeable impact on his overall well-being. He is more active, energetic and happier.

Boccia is a game adapted for people with motor skills disabilities and can have a positive effect on developing people’s hand motor skills, improving movement coordination and strengthening cognitive skills.

© UNICEF Azerbaijan/Karimova/2016
A swimmer competing in the Second Paralympic Games for Children. The Children Paralympic Committee of Azerbaijan plans to organize international games in the future.

A growing movement

The Children’s Paralympic Committee was established with the support of UNICEF and aims to attract children with disabilities to sport, while supporting their physical rehabilitation and integration to society.

Other partnerships have been developed with the national football federation AFFA to help promote the value of inclusive sports, including for girls and children with disabilities. New coaching guidelines and training initiatives have focused on inclusiveness.

According to Kamal Mammadov, Executive Director of the Children’s Paralympic Committee, this is the beginning of a global movement – he is planning talks with national committees in Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine to plan international games in the near future.

While traditional prejudices toward children with disabilities among family members and broader society are starting to slowly disappear, the unsuitable infrastructure of the city for people with disabilities remains a concern.  

Vagifa Bayramova, who coaches boccia, points out that resources remain a challenge. “You cannot do much without investment,” she says.

She undertakes training sessions in the dressing room of the children’s rehabilitation centre in the Baku suburb of Ganjlik. But some improvements have materialized; a ramp was recently installed at the entrance of the building, meaning children in wheelchairs no longer have to be carried into the centre.

While much attention is paid to medal tables, UNICEF is looking for even bigger wins – promoting an environment in which children with disabilities, often excluded from daily life, demonstrate their abilities and play a full and positive role in their communities. And in doing so, emphasizing the point that every child can be a winner.



UNICEF Photography: Children see the friend, before the disability

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