Our medal-laden Paralympic heroes returned to Thailand and a rapturous reception last Tuesday after their remarkable success in London.
But without continued support, who can guarantee a repeat in four years’ time?
Thailand sent a strong squad of 50 athletes – 39 men and 11 women – to compete in 10 events at the 14th Paralympics. They initially set their sights on winning just two gold medals. But they came home to a heroes’ welcome after capturing eight medals – four of them gold, with Rungroj Thainiyom triumphing in table tennis and Pattaya Tadtong victorious in the men’s individual and mixed team boccia.
Felicitations to everyone who took part, and special congratulations to the committed Thai athletes for making the whole country feel proud. It’s not just the medal winners who should be applauded, but all the participants, who fought tooth and nail in a determined effort to bring glory to Thailand on the world stage.
After a whirlwind week of parades, screaming fans and interviews, the Thai Paralympic heroes now have to go back to the vicissitudes of everyday life – a truth each disabled person has to face in a difficult world.
The disabled Thai athletes proved in London that physical impairment is merely an accident of birth or circumstance. Will and determination are what really shape us. The inspiring example they set for all of us is difficult to put into words, but their impact has been obvious. The significant success of the Thai Paralympians has made headlines both in newspapers and on television news. This unprecedented coverage is increasingly helping to change public perceptions of disability.
Upon their return, the Yingluck Shinawatra-led government hosted a home-coming party for these heroes and the Prime Minister also gave away cash incentives from the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) to medal winners, with the a handsome bonus of Bt6 million presented to each gold medallist.
However, support for the Paralympians cannot be left up to the NSDF and the government alone. The country has generous private individuals and sponsors who can bring a financial boost to Thai sports – and the Paralympic athletes deserve to be included. Widespread and continued support for sport is necessary if we want to bathe in the glow of Thai success on the world stage. We should not be waiting passively for the government to do everything; everyone should do their bit.
Sources have revealed that, in their daunting preparations for the London Paralympic Games, many Thai athletes faced nightmarish experiences. In certain cases, budgets were too low to afford training equipment, which saw some athletes train with unsuitable wheelchairs. The full seriousness of the situation was revealed when nuts holding together the wheelchair broke off in training. This, however, was a minor detail among the routine difficulties disabled athletes face, such as travelling to different training and competition sites, and negotiating disabled-unfriendly venues.
To reach their ultimate goals in world-class sporting events, handicapped athletes need long-term preparations. So, among the first questions they must ask is, will we get a daily allowance? Financial support should be a top priority for the training of athletes with disabilities.
Looking ahead to the next Games – Rio de Janeiro 2016 – the Thai Paralympic athletes will only continue their remarkable run if they get full support, both psychological and financial. The government can provide them strong funding, good training venues with modern facilities, equipment and competitive partners to train alongside, while sponsors are ready to provide a helping hand.
Only if all these requirements are met will we guarantee that Thai athletes in Rio de Janeiro repeat their achievements – or maybe even better them.