The biggest unified sport competition in Singapore
Special Olympics Singapore and SportCares team up to co-organise Singapore’s biggest unified competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities and students from mainstream schools
Singapore, 14 July 2018 – Over 450 participants comprising of athletes with intellectual disabilities and their unified partners from mainstream schools came together on Saturday to contest four sports – badminton, basketball, floorball, and football – in the inaugural Play Inclusive 2018 event, Singapore’s biggest unified competition to date.
The event was co-organised by Special Olympics Singapore and SportCares with the support of the Ministry of Education. Play Inclusive 2018 is the culmination of a 6-month long campaign to promote social inclusion through shared sport and competition experiences between persons with and without intellectual disabilities, using sport as the common language to break down barriers. Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung opened the Games at the Singapore Sports Hub’s OCBC Arena this morning.
The campaign opened in January this year with the Play Inclusive Seminar where teachers from mainstream schools and coaches were briefed about the concept of unified play and taught the skills needed to coach a team comprising of persons with varying abilities. Prior to this, unified competitions in Singapore were typically single sport events.
Speaking on the importance of the event and community bridging, Special Olympics Singapore president Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang shared: "Special Olympics Singapore believes that everyone, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, has the right to play and compete with their peers in an inclusive and supportive environment. Play Inclusive 2018 is a unique platform that provides the opportunity for everyone to come together on the same playing fields and courts in the spirit of friendship and respect for diversity.”
Through recent findings from the Active Citizens Worldwide Singapore City Report 2018, it has been found that sport contributes to 119 hours of positive social contact a year per active Singapore resident. On average, 62 hours are spent with a person from a different race, 43 hours with a person from the different age group, and 7 hours with a person with disability.
Identifying that more can be done to increase social interaction amongst these various groups, Mr Lai Chin Kwang, Chief of ActiveSG shared, “SportCares is committed to using sport as a force for social good and bringing people from different backgrounds together. With Play Inclusive as a precursor to the Inclusive Sport Festival in August, we hope that programmes like these, will help more people can come together to play, and recognise individuals for their abilities.”
Dr Christopher Tay, Chief Executive Officer of Association for Persons with Special Needs also shared “Sport is a universal language that can play a key part in celebrating diversity. Despite their differences, our students/trainees and the unified partners are able to unite together as a team to have fun and play sports. This serves as a good opportunity for meaningful interaction and helps to foster understanding amongst the sportsmen.”
Unified sport competitions
In unified sport competitions, athletes with intellectual disabilities are teamed up with unified partners (who are persons without special needs). A process called “divisioning”, where athletes are assessed for their playing abilities and then placed in a division where the athletes’ skills are similar. This is used to ensure equal and quality participation for the athletes. The presence of unified partners in each team is to encourage and facilitate meaningful gameplay, and penalties will be imposed if partners dominate the game.
As with any other team sport, to better understand each other’s strength and weakness, teams had to train together in their respective sport for a minimum of 8 weeks to qualify for Play Inclusive 2018. This interaction allowed the teams to learn to play together by understanding their teammates.
Lee Lie Han, 13, unified partner from Ping Yi Secondary School has never engaged individuals with special needs prior to Play Inclusive 2018. Choosing the sport of badminton to participate in, Lie Han shared some of the challenges he encountered, but is proud to have played a part in helping some of the other athletes improve. “They are different from the friends I usually make but all we need is to have a bit more understanding towards them.”
Muhammad Asyraf Bin Abu Zarim, 17, from MINDS Woodlands Garden School shared his experience, “Through the trainings I have made friends with Jun Hong my partner from Evergreen Secondary School. When I am unsure about the competition rules, he will teach and encourage me. I am looking forward to winning some medals together with him at Play Inclusive!"
Over 270 SportCares youth, student and corporate volunteers, and officials were on duty from as early as 7am to ensure the 10-hour event ran like clockwork. Some traditionally paid roles, such as Competition Managers and Umpires, were also helmed by volunteers.