Pakistan’s special athletes begin preparations for Berlin Games

BASKETBALL players undergo drills before a practice match at the KPT Sports Complex on Monday.—courtesy SOPKARACHI: On Monday morning, the KPT Sports Complex, was buzzing with activity in a heartwarming display of athleticism and determination. On its wood-paneled court, Pakistan’s special athletes bounced and ran in a friendly basketball match with their unified partners; people without intellectual disabilities. They were here mCundari, a seasoned coach with extensive experience in the field, is here on invitation from Special Olympics Pakistan (SOP), and apart from overseeing the training of Pakistan’s special athletes he will also provide training to coaches. “These athletes are an inspiration for us,” Cundari told Dawn, “and working with special children is a privilege.” marking the start of preparations for this year’s Special Olympic World Games in Berlin which were being observed by Canadian coach Glenn Cundari.

From what he’d seen on his first day in Pakistan, Cundari — who won the Canadian national award for ‘Contributions to Coach Development’ — reckons there is a lot of potentials. “I observed these players in the basketball match and other sports and they are more than capable to bring some medals home,” he added.

Almost 200 countries will be participating in the Berlin Games, which kick off on June 17 and conclude on June 25.

Pakistan’s athletes will be competing in 11 disciplines including, tennis, table tennis, basketball, futsal, cycling, boche, athletic, badminton, powerlifting, field hockey, and swimming.

A delegation of 121 members will travel to the German capital. The delegation includes 51 male athletes and 36 female athletes along with unified partners, 17 male coaches, 13 female coaches, three officials, and one doctor.

With Cundari roped in to provide his expertise, a strong showing from Pakistan is expected.

“I was fortunate enough to develop a relationship with Special Olympics International which was supporting the project here in Pakistan,” Cundari informed. “Coaches are always looking for more support and as we started to build relations with SOP chairperson Ms. Ronak Lakhani. I became more interested in taking this assignment and helping the coaches here.”

Cundari will leave Pakistan on Friday and will supervise the training from an online platform.

“Training online is definitely less effective than me being personal here but this is the situation at the moment and I will try to make the best of the opportunity,” he added.

Ronak Lakhani, who was honored with Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2016, said that the addition of Cundari will help the athletes prepare better and also would be more supportive of the local coaches.

“The arrival of Cundari to Pakistan is an honor for us.” the SOP chairperson told Dawn. “Cundari will hold seminars on the next two days where he will address on how to enhance the capabilities of critical thinking, mental strength, and leadership skills of the coaches which will help them take decisions better.”

But organizing activities regularly for athletes with special needs remains a challenge.

“We don’t get support from the government and we have to organize events like National Games on our own,” SOP’s national director Talha Tahir told Dawn. “We are in talks with the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and we want them to support us.”Taha, however, added that the training camps will continue till the Games.

“We have recently organized national camps and now these camps will be city-wise where athletes will be invited,” he informed, adding that apart from cyclists and hockey players, other athletes will continue to train at the KPT Sports Complex.

“We provide training to cyclists near Sea View, Khayaban-e-Sahil while hockey drills and practice sessions are being conducted at the Abdul Sattar Hockey Stadium.”

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