The world had witnessed one of the greatest achievements in the history of the Paralympics when javelin thrower Dinesh Priyantha Herath clinched the gold medal in the F46 category with a world record throw of 67.79metres. A few hours later his colleague Samitha Dulan Kodithuwakku won the bronze medal in the F64 category. Dulan achieved [...]


Paralympic Committee bolsters future plans

'Success at Tokyo Paralympics is a steppingstone for future of the differently-abled' - Col. Deepal Herath

Gold medalist Dinesh Priyantha Herath has created the vibe for future para athletes

The world had witnessed one of the greatest achievements in the history of the Paralympics when javelin thrower Dinesh Priyantha Herath clinched the gold medal in the F46 category with a world record throw of 67.79metres. A few hours later his colleague Samitha Dulan Kodithuwakku won the bronze medal in the F64 category. Dulan achieved his personal best hurling a distance of 65.61metres.

This historic achievement is considered as a source of inspiration for the whole nation, as this was the first time Sri Lanka had won more than one medal in its Olympic or Paralympic history. The nine-member contingent returned home with pride as they were placed at the 57th overall in the 162-nation event.

The president of the Paralympic committee Col. Deepal Herath, who was at the venue in Tokyo when the two para athletes brought glory to Sri Lanka, believes that the success they achieved can be a stepping stone for the differently-abled individuals island-wide to achieve greater heights in years to come.

He also stressed about the importance of maintaining the international recognition they had gained at the Tokyo Paralympics. He also commended the armed forces for their unstained efforts to develop para sports in the country.

It has been 12 years since the three-decade civil war ended and it is difficult to find disable soldiers for the future events. So the Paralympic Committee has decided to conduct talent identification programmes in collaboration with the Department of Social Services with the intention of hunting for differently-abled youth, who are keen to pursue a career in sports.

The Social Services Department officers, who have been appointed to all the Divisional Secretariats across the country, have been in frequent contact with the Paralympic Committee when identifying athletes and organising events according to the international standards.

The Paralympic Committee will then categorise them according to their sport, the nature of disability and also according to their body structure. Rookies to para sports will be guided and trained by the coaches and they will be able to participate in competitions organised by the Paralympic Committee. Those talented will draft into a pool of athletes which will be categorised according to the sport.

Col. Herath highlighted the fact that coaches should be patient in identifying the talents and the capabilities of each athlete. He believes that athletes will gradually respond with the guidance of the coaches. It is important to keep their spirits high and give them the required exposure, then the athletes will be motivated to do justice for their capabilities.

“A prime example for this is the performances of Dinesh Priyantha and Samitha Dulan,” he explained.

When it comes to coaching para athletes, different techniques are used. The coaches and the trainers know how to motivate them according to their abilities. As a former para athlete and the current president of the Paralympic Committee Col. Herath is pleased with the progress.

Already they have three squads of athletes identified for the future. Especially the third set of athletes include those under the age of 19 and at present priority has been given to the Under-19 category as they are scheduled to participate at the Asian Para Youth Games, which is to be held in Bahrain in December in 2021.

In 2017, they identified that there are differently-abled civilians who can take up para sports and they have been encouraged to join one of the 65 sports clubs that are affiliated with the Paralympic Committee. Some of those sports clubs don’t have the facilities up to the required standards, but they are hopeful that they will be able to provide facilities as soon as possible.

At present Sri Lanka has participated in 12 para sports that include athletics, swimming, archery, wheelchair marathon, cycling, table tennis, wheelchair tennis and rowing.

“Under the Paralympic Committee, a squad was formed in 2017 as we prepared for the Tokyo Paralympics. The current sports minister had said that the best performing athletes should be elevated and eventually 16 athletes were selected as high performance athletes by the National Sports Council. They have been provided with all the required facilities, including a monthly allowance. That motivated all athletes to perform according to their instincts. That was the main reason for our success in Tokyo,” Col. Herath explained.

They are hoping to continue the process that brought glory in Tokyo. Col. Herath stressed that, once an athlete is drafted into a national squad, the athlete should give priority to improve their performances. An assessment will be conducted once in every three months to monitor their performances before selecting squads for upcoming national and international competitions.

He praised the involvement of the sports ministry for their invaluable efforts taken to improve para sports in the country. Despite the glory that the brave-hearted para athletes have brought to the nation, there are still setbacks that have to be addressed to the society.

Col. Herath feels that there must be a significant change in the attitude in the society regarding the differently-abled individuals. They should be treated equally but still people don’t understand the challenges they have encountered over the years. Despite an Act that was passed in the parliament, the responsible authorities have failed to implement the needful requirements up to now. They must have access to sporting venues and other public places.

“We must let the differently able community to express their ideas and make them feel that they are also a part of the society. That will enable them to have freedom to show their capabilities,” he said.

Another important area of concern is the difficulty in transportation and accessibility. Due to unavailability of proper mode of transportation, many athletes have found it challenging to continue to engage in sports for a prolonged period. Col. Herath urged the responsible authorities to find prompt solutions to this.

He also highlighted the reasons behind Sri Lanka’s success in para sports in recent years, which he said mainly due to the unity in the Paralympic Committee.

“We gather ideas from past office bearers and we work towards a unique goal. Our ultimate dream is to encourage differently-abled individuals to take up sports. From that they will be able to move forward in life and be proud citizens of Sri Lanka.” Col. Herath stated with a sense of satisfaction.

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