Diversity in sports enables participation

Interview with Prof. Thomas Abel, German Sport University Cologne


Sports have always played a big role at REHACARE trade fair. This year, the Sports Center in Hall 7a isn’t the only place where things will become athletic: this afternoon, the REHACARE Forum will focus on the combination of sports and participation. Before the event, REHACARE.com spoke with Professor Thomas Abel from the German Sport University Cologne about how lived diversity in sports can contribute to inclusion.

Photo: Prof. Thomas Abel; Copyright: beta-web/Höpfner

Prof. Thomas Abel; © beta-web/Höpfner

Prof. Abel, to what extent can major sporting events like the Paralympics contribute in drawing the attention of the general public to competitive and recreational sports played by persons with disabilities?

Prof. Thomas Abel: Major sporting events always hold a unique attraction and appeal and are seen as something special. This applies to both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. And this unique attraction continues to have an effect. I am pretty sure that a great many people watched the Paralympics and were captivated by the possibilities of sports. At the same time, no doubt many people with disabilities have decided to engage in sports again thanks to the Games – though they will most likely embark at the recreational and not necessarily the professional sports level.

I also think it is important to not just think in terms of limitations – even though they exist of course. But the common ground and the possibilities are far more important. They need attention and should be recognized. I believe that the Paralympic Games actually had a more positive effect on the general public than the Olympic Games. On location, the events were much more frequented and the focus on the sport itself was clearly greater from my point of view.

What are the reasons that the media does not cover disabled sports as much by comparison?

Abel: The coverage per se has a good quality. At this point, both print media, as well as radio and television, prepare well-researched reports. This is already a quantum leap, compared to previous years. Having said that, the media also suffers from a lack of interest on the part of society. Subsequently, the demand is relatively low since the exposure to people with disabilities is simply very little in everyday life. That’s why not enough people know this type of sport and therefore don’t request it from the media. In turn, the media moguls at the public broadcasting corporations in part lack the courage to broadcast during prime time, in my opinion. The final game of women’s wheelchair basketball would have been an ideal opportunity, for example.

Why is sport so well-suited to implement participation and inclusion?

Abel: Especially in my professional surroundings, I was able to experience the effects sports can have. Participation can be translated as "Embracing diversity". Time and again, short, tall, big, skinny, gifted, very promising but in any case very diverse people are openly being accepted in sports. Diversity is an opportunity and it can be realized with solidarity. To make it possible for people with disabilities to participate in sporting events, it often only takes minor changes of the basic rules for example. This is not just taxing but above all joyful. Ultimately, everyone can benefit from diversity.

What else needs to happen to ensure comprehensive participation in sports?

Abel: You need to look at this from two levels: first is the structural level. We obviously need barrier-free and accessible sports facilities and instructors in the clubs and schools who are properly prepared for diversity. The second level is the inner attitude. And it needs to grow. However, we still require far more meeting places, more exposure and more experiences with each other. Ultimately this automatically creates the willingness to create even more meeting places. And suddenly, it goes without saying that a child with a disability enrolls in the same sports club in a small town in the Eifel just like all the other children. Because the opportunities and everyone’s willingness are available.

Visitors can try out many sports directly in the REHACARE Sports Center. Why should your lecture topic "Sports and Participation" also be a part of this trade fair?

Abel: I believe experiencing sports and actively trying out different things is very important. Many trade fair visitors also take advantage of the choices available on location at REHACARE. It can pique their interest and – in the best-case scenario- get people excited about a specific sport. My lecture focuses on exactly this fascination and excitement and the potential for diversity. I will address the question of where we are right now and where we might be headed. Something many are also not aware of: the German Sport University Cologne is host to many students with disabilities. This will also be a topic in my lecture – as just one of many examples that reflect how participation thrives in sports.

The lecture "Sports and participation" by Prof. Thomas Abel will be held in German on Wednesday, 28th of September, at 01:00 pm in the REHACARE-Forum in Hall 3, Stand E74.
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)