Rugby breaking down disability barrier with IMART – The Irish Times

You wouldn’t believe the strides made in disability sport. From the bumper RTÉ coverage of the Paralympics to annual competitions for the Special Olympics, golf and rugby too have thrown their names into the ring as the next two sports to totally break down barriers.

The International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament (IMART) in Cork started on Sunday in Cork and finishes on Friday. Mixed ability rugby was started in the 1990s in Wales, starting with the formation of two teams, the Swansea Gladiators and the Llanelli Warriors. Disability in the 90s was a taboo, it was tricky for socialization and chances are you’d get stared at until you felt so uncomfortable you had to leave a given setting.

But sport is an incredible bonding mechanism. Sure, some would stare at you as you stepped on the block or prepared for a scrum – although in mixed ability rugby the scrums are uncontested. However, once the game started all eyes were on your ability rather than your disability.

Initially when I started disability sport, the whole idea was to get kids with disabilities together to hang out and socialise. Usually that meant sharing stories, but frankly the stories were usually negative and focused on what you couldn’t do rather than can do.

God forbid you were any bit competitive. The whole idea was to have fun and be with your team. At home in Millstreet, my team would Batista Bomb me and put me in goals to kick footballs at me. To me and my family that was practice. To some people in the disability sector it was borderline bullying… I’m adamant it was practice and part of growing up.

Disability sport is different now. It’s a healthy way to channel anger, socialise, stay fit and healthy and celebrate having a disability. Sure, I couldn’t join my family at the fittest family fundraiser in our local ladies football club, but I could channel my inner Davy Fitzgerald and berate my brother for not being able to flip tires. I’ve no limbs, he’s unfit, we all have disabilities.

Back to IMART in Musgrave Park, a celebration of everyone’s abilities. As one player firmly told me, the best thing about the game was tackling, and they’d easily channel their inner Linda Djougang and drive the opponent back a few yards if necessary. Cheers and hollering from the stand, this feels like pure competition.

Due to ranges of ability, every need is cared for. Some are leaping about dancing to the tunes, others are sitting in the chill zone, decompressing and recovering after a big effort. When catering for all needs it’s a seamless transition in and out. No family has to be concerned about potential meltdowns or plan on whether the stadium is noisy. A major stress is removed and families can enjoy themselves and mingle.

Globally, IMART has captured interests. Over 1,100 people will make their way to Leeside, including 160 players and coaches from Ecuador, Chile and Argentina alone. Further sides will ship in from Scotland, England, Wales, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Canada, while there is also a strong Irish representation. The West Cork Jesters, Sundays Well Rebels, Malone Tornadoes of Belfast and Banbridge Barbarians will all compete in the men’s competition, the Ballincollig Trailblazers will fly the flag in the women’s, the first time women are solely included as a standalone team, while De La Salle Palmerstown Vikings of Kilternan are also sending a group.

The whole idea of ​​mixed adds ability to the intrigue. Usually for disability sports days those without a disability are segregated into volunteerism and guiding people with disabilities around, automatically creating an us vs them situation, a hierarchy. Volunteers have the best intentions and the world wouldn’t spin without them, but there’s no harm in reversing roles or sharing roles. We can all share and learn from one another.

With Golf Ireland also joining the party with the first Irish Open for Golfers with a Disability in Roganstown Hotel & Country Club from July 5th-6th, many sports are seeing the value in including everyone. In fact, multiple Paralympian winning medalist Michael McKillop will be making his debut when he competes.

Overall, it’s great to see how many sporting organizations can see the value in bringing in people with disabilities. Apart from the stereotypical corporate lingo of more diversity equals more viewpoints which leads to success, it also gives those with a disability another opportunity, not just to meet and socialise, but an opportunity to compete. The backing needs to come from disability organisations, helping to develop the technology and tools necessary to help people succeed.

Sport can be key in breaking down barriers, allowing those an opportunity to showcase their ability rather than disability; it gives people a chance. A chance and an opportunity sometimes is all you need.

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