After the success of the SEA Games, Burma is now preparing to host the ASEAN Para Games for the first time ever.
With only a few days until the opening ceremony in Naypyidaw, the teams were more than ready.
“We have no experience with international matches prior to this, but we are determined to win by using all the strength we have, and this keeps us in high-spirits”, said Aung Ko Ko, a wheelchair basketball player.
This is the 7th edition of the Para Games, a multi-sports championship for people with disabilities.
The Myanmar ASEAN Para Games Organising Committee is coordinating the games, under guidance of the ASEAN Para Sports Federation.
“As a former para athlete, I have competed in the Para Games myself back under the [Burmese Socialist Programme Party] ruling – we used to have remarkable support from the government who organised games every year”, said Aung Myint Tun, from the Myanmar Para Sports Federation.
1,500 athletes with physical disabilities will take part in 12 sporting events, such as basketball, futsal and chess. And the players are aiming for gold.
“I won medals in the Mon State Blind Chess Championship from 1973 to 1979”, said competitor Aye Lwin. “I am determined to win all gold medals in the 7th ASEAN Para Games this year.”
According to Aung Myint Tun, Burmese athletes are generally good at sports such as swimming, track and field and volleyball. The goal is to score between 40-50 gold medals this year.
The selling of tickets for the opening ceremony started on the 1st of January. Each person can buy a maximum of 2 tickets, as long as they can present a citizenship scrutiny card.
As during the SEA Games late last year, the athletes will be staying at the Athlete’s village, built especially for the occasion.
Though the athletes are determined to succeed, they feel that public support for the Para Games is not as strong as it was for the SEA Games.
“As the SEA Games is very high profile, a lot of people follow the event, but I feel as if they are not very supportive of the para games”, said Ken Demo, blind goalball player.
“We are doing well and aiming to win some medals; if possible, we would like to win gold”, said Nan Win Win Than, sitting volleyball player. “But we are only participating for the first time this year we are not expecting a lot.”
“I would like the media and the country leaders to know – I have played about 10 international matches but we are still not treated as worthy human beings”, said Zaw Moe Aung, blind goalball player. “The amount of bonuses we are given is not much compared to normal athletes, we are only awarded about 200,000-300,000 Kyat per match – in many matches regardless of the effort we made and to this day, we are still struggling to survive. We wish the country’s leaders and the public knew this and would pay us more attention”.
However, the athletes keep their spirits up as the opening of the games draws closer.
“We wish to see the same kind of support from the people as towards the SEA Games”, said weightlifter Than Aung. “Compared to the SEA Games, we are very slow-paced, as we have physical disabilities. Despite that, we are keeping our spirits strong, looking to play our best and would like to urge the people to support us the same way they did for the national teams in the SEA Games.”
The opening ceremony, as well as the majority of the sporting events, will take place on 14 January at Wunna Theikdi Stadium, the main venue of the SEA Games. The Para Games will go on until the 21st of January.