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Inclusive sport

UNICEF Image: Boys in wheelchairs play basketball
© UNICEF/UNI124699/Sibiloni
Boys play basketball at Lira District Union of Persons with Disabilities in northern Uganda.

Above all, we need to come together as a global community and fully commit ourselves to reaching the hardest to reach. For there can be no true progress in human development unless its benefits are shared – and to some degree, driven – by the most vulnerable among us.  --Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director

Around the world, children need the free time, space and fellowship to enjoy sport and play. While the need for the activities of sport are global in scope, the ability to be included often is not.

Social exclusion is defined as a series of deprivations – be they linked to economic position, gender, cultural or political rights. Any child can be excluded based on a variety of socio-political factors – including religion, gender, ethnicity, language, geographic location, physical or intellectual ability – which result in discrimination and disadvantage within society.

Children’s exclusion from essential services and goods, such as adequate food, healthcare and schooling, clearly affects their ability to participate in their communities and societies in both the present and the future.

Sometimes the factors that produce exclusion can be compounded and exacerbated by child protection abuses or the state’s neglect of children living outside of traditional family structures. In such cases, exclusion can become so extreme that children become invisible – denied their rights, unable to attend school and obscured from official view through absence from statistics, policies and programmes. Sometimes the children are denied social interaction due to stigma attached to intellectual or physical disabilities.

Sport can provide a way to break down barriers and promote inclusion of children who are often left on the sidelines. Full participation in sport activities can benefit people who are usually excluded in two ways:

  • By changing community perceptions of the capability of different groups: Through sport, children – regardless of gender, ability or background – can come together in a positive context (sometimes for the first time) and see each other accomplish things they had previously thought impossible. This helps reduce stigma and discrimination and changes the attitude of gatekeepers who have the power to permit or deny children the right to take part in physical activity.
  • By changing children’s perceptions of themselves and their abilities: Sport empowers children to recognize their own potential and advocate for changes in society to enable them to fully realize that potential.

Promoting the participation of children with disabilities as an example of inclusion. People living with disabilities constitute approximately 10 per cent of the global population. Of this total, 80 per cent live in low-income countries; most are poor and have limited or no access to basic services, including rehabilitation facilities. Sport is a way to engage these children in the lives of their communities, thereby enriching both the child’s life and the community itself. Inclusion is a way to begin undoing many obstacles; inclusive societies are fair societies and sport is a great way to start.

Some inclusive programs to explore:

In Cuba, celebrating differences through inclusive football

Paralympians with Polio Project

Open Doors to Inclusion

Special Olympics Unified Sports

Montenegro’s ‘It’s About Ability’ campaign

UNICEF Azerbaijan and the Children’s Paralympic Committee in the country



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