The core value of United Through Sports (UTS) is inclusion as a basic human right. An inclusive environment and society can only exist if all members feel a part of it.
The third and fourth day of the World Youth Festival 2022 was a showcase of inclusion. The World Youth Festival celebrates and encourages us all to embrace everyone regardless of their race, age, gender, disability, religion and cultural beliefs.
Through the unique and powerful platform of sports no matter where the youth come from or their background, all youth have a place to feel equal. True inclusion is when barriers, discrimination and intolerance are removed and this is what the festival aims to achieve with each new edition.
The World Youth Festival 2022 coincides with the UN Day for Tolerance. Former 8th UN Secretary General stated ‘I’m proud there are over 400 youth ambassadors coming together from all walks of life to promote the principles of unity and diversity recognizing the universal human rights and fundamental freedom of each and everyone’.
United Through Sports has 15 youth ambassadors that all carry inclusion in their hearts. Whether it be inclusion based on ability, inclusion based on race or inclusion based on social background. During the UTS Youth Ambassadors panel true words were spoken about inclusion and tolerance. “I don’t want people to assume what I am capable of, give me, give us a chance,” said Husnah Kukundakwe, currently the only Ugandan Paralympic swimmer. Fellow Paralympic athlete and UTS Ambassador Ezra Frech said, “I don’t want to just exist, I want to achieve all my goals and more, and this is what I focus on every single day. People constantly stare at me and I have to rise above the judgements all the time.”
UTS ambassador Harmonie-Rose Allen experienced a quadruple amputation and she is the youngest person to ever have received prosthetic legs with computerised knees. Harmonie-Rose Allen said: “They’re just amazing and they make me feel included.” Harmonie-Rose has been a pioneering advocate of inclusion for the last 2 editions of the festival reaching thousands of hearts and homes around the world.
Everybody wants to feel that they have a place in society, Rebecca Maestroni is another fantastic UTS Ambassador. Rebecca now 14, was born with intellectual impairment. She is an avid and excellent alpine skier: Rebecca said: “I live my life centimeter by centimeter, but when I sum them up, I find that I have done meters and not centimeters any longer, this makes me happy”. Rebecca will represent Milano Cortina 2026 at the UTS World Youth Festival 2022 and is part of the ‘Generation 2026’, a generation of youth who put sport at the center of their lives, and who fully embrace the values of the Italian games: sustainability, inclusion, determination, respect, and friendship. Rebecca’s dream is to compete in alpine skiing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
The World Youth Festival 2022 welcomed youth from challenged backgrounds. UTS invited youth from migrant camps in the North of Thailand, Mae Sot, with the support of the dedicated Right to Play. Right to Play is a beautiful organisation that empowers vulnerable youth to overcome the effects of war, poverty, and disease through play. With our “Bangkok Urban Youth Tournament” on the 19 November, these youth had a fun opportunity to participate in teams across: futsal, 3×3 basketball, sepaktakraw, badminton, muaythai, rock climbing, and skateboarding.
During the festival sports for all abilities are included, there is badminton, muaythai, para fencing, futsal, cheerleading, blind chess, floor ball, volleyball, deaf futsal, boxing, weightlifting, teqball, amongst others.
Julia Govinden, CEO of UTS said: “It makes me beyond proud and emotional when I see youth of all abilities and backgrounds come together and unite through sports. There is a place for everybody in society to be and feel included if we all work together and understand that this is a vital need. If we can encourage society to take a different perspective, to understand how it feels to be on the outside and to shine the spotlight, then already I am proud. The youth and guests joining this event are coming together, stronger than ever to show the world that now is the time for change.”
The festival which is under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, the Special Olympics and supported by numerous International Federations is one of few events in the world where the leadership of all three organisations unite. Along with GAISF and SportAccord they are joined by UNESCO and over 140 organisations towards unified call to action for a more inclusive world.
Born with both physical and intellectual disabilities, Chanchai Kemkaew, a Special Olympics athlete and board member of Special Olympics Thailand, understands firsthand the empowering impact of sports. From initially lacking in self-confidence and having difficulty even walking, he joined Special Olympics programs as a 13-year-old and has not looked back. Since then, Chanchai, has played football in Special Olympics competitions, sat on various national and regional games organizing committees, and gave a speech on inclusion during the World Youth Festival 2022. “What youth with disabilities need is the belief and support that we too, can achieve and succeed, I hope you can join us in the journey of making our dreams come true,” said Chanchai.
Dipak Natali, President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Asia Pacific, who joined the festival noted that challenges of pushing for greater inclusion have been exacerbated with the pandemic. He said: “To mitigate these challenges, we know we cannot go it alone. To genuinely change lives and create lasting, positive impact, we engage with partners in sports like UTS, education and healthcare to develop an integrated approach that furthers our ability to support individuals with intellectual disabilities. We thank UTS for their support and commitment in driving our mission forward and look forward to exploring further collaborations in the near future.”