Storytellers for sports of disabilities

  • Oct 04 2017
  • By Parasport

TT – Behind the success of Vietnamese sports heroes such as Le Van Cong, Cao Ngoc Hung and Vo Thanh Tung stands Parasport, a non-profit organization. Indeed, three representatives of Parasport traveled with the Vietnam delegation to the 2017 ASEAN Para Games in Malaysia, starting on 17 September, where, as in previous Games, they had supported athletes and delivered awards.

Philanthropic Billionaire
What is Parasport?

Parasport’s founder is Oleg Boyko, a 52-year-old Russian entrepreneur and investor who is Chairman of Finstar Financial Group, a global private equity firm. An accident 20-years ago inspired Mr. Boyko to turn his considerable energies toward helping others with disabilities. In 2006, he founded Parasport, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping disabled athletes fulfill their dreams. Mr. Boyko believed that by doing this, he could also help transform the public view of disabilities and the disabled, while furthering his message that there are no real limits to human achievement.

Explaining his reasons for founding Parasport, Oleg Boyko said: "The beauty of the disability sports movement is what the athletes have experienced and received. Disabled athletes push us all to new heights. They represent the strength to overcome all challenges of life – a visceral expression of willpower, courage and humanity. Their athletic glory gives them a power far beyond anything else we can visualize."

Oleg Viktorovich Boyko

Russian sports fans will be more aware than their Vietnamese counterparts of Parasport, which has had tremendous success in aiding Russian parathletes on their journeys toward Olympic success. However, in 2014, Parasport came to Southeast Asia. Within the region, Vietnam has been the place where Parasport has worked best, because of the urgent needs of athletes with disabilities there.

Huynh Thanh Tuyen, the president of Parasport Vietnam, said, "I had travelled many times to Singapore and Malaysia to exchange experiences, and in doing so, I found exactly how difficult disabled athletes in Vietnam have it. It was far worse for them than in any of our neighbouring countries. For instance, Malaysia had nearly a hundred sets of dumbbells available for disabled athletes’ weight training, whereas in Vietnam there was one set, Le Van Cong’s. Beyond the equipment, Malaysia offers up to 1 million ringgit (5.4 billion dong) for each Paralympic gold medal; Vietnamese athletes struggle to save money for their family. Indeed, it’s a major task for us to convince disabled folks that they must remain fit, healthy and competitive."

“Big transformation” from Parasport

Parasport’s arrival in Vietnam has coincided with a transformation of disability sports in the country. Le Van Cong won Vietnam’s First Paralympic gold in Rio in 2016. Ms. Thanh Tuyền points out that Parasport has been crucial to training and participation: "The sponsorship from Parasport is about VND 1.6bn annually, including rewards, nutrition aid and equipment training."

Paralympic champion Le Van Cong added: "I am fortunate to have had so much support from Parasport as my career progressed. As the first international-standard weightlifter in Vietnam, I was trained and sponsored by Parasport. I didn’t just receive access to equipment, but Parasport also helps with the lives of athletes, giving us great encouragement.”

Turn athletes into “heroes”

Huynh Thanh Tuyen continued: “Those who followed the ASEAN Para Games would have seen Le Van Cong and Vo Thanh Tung, the swimmer, on the podium in their moments of quiet glory. And that’s when all fans can empathise with them, when they see that disability does not limit human achievement and that their disabilities do nothing to diminish their achievements.”

This is something that Parasport concentrated on when designing its new website, which prominently features eye-catching images of Vietnamese disabled athletes, whose quotes accompany their images. For example, veteran thrower Wang Zhou: "We are a bit different from the crowd, but we want do the same things as them." And Le Van Cong: "I was born as an unidentified child; sport gave me a name and a life." Meantime, their life stories, as well as those of Vuong Chau and Trinh Thi Bich Nhu, are depicted in detail on the Parasport website.

Parasport supports disabled athletes while telling the stories of their lives. "Getting to other countries, such as Brazil in the 2016 Paralympic Games, brought fame to our athletes, but also publicized their stories. They talked about their lives with pride, joy and their acceptance of hero status. We want to tell their stories to you. In the same way that sports have helped their lives, they will inspire you in your life," said Ms. Thanh Tuyen. "Also, remember the ASEAN Para Games of 2015. The athletes were reticent before the cameras. We even had to provide ideas to discuss before interviews," she added. “Now, only a couple of years later, they are articulate, enthusiastic and expressive when telling their stories of life and success. It’s a wonderful transformation, and they now serve as a powerful inspiration to us all, the able bodied and disabled alike.”

During the Para Games of 2017, Parasport will continue to publicize the Vietnamese athletes’ inspiring stories of sporting success and overcoming hardship. And as always, they will be the stories of heroes, not victims.

Pham Van Tuan, the Deputy General Director of the General Department of Sports, and the Chairman of the Vietnam Paralympic Association, said: "Parasport is a not-for-profit organization that makes meaningful contributions to sport for people with disabilities in Vietnam. Previously, disabled sportspeople in Vietnam received no such sponsorship. Over the past three years, Parasport has not only provided equipment and generous bonuses, but has also improved the lives of athletes, from food and nutrition to home life and help finding work for athletes after their lives in sports. Many athletes consider Parasport as part of their families."