Sixteen emerging leaders in disability sport—including current and former national athletes, Paralympic executives, social entrepreneurs, and inclusion advocates from 15 countries—are participating in the second annual Sport for Community program, led by UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.
This the second year the center is leading the program, which is part of the US Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program initiative. It is one of two biannual exchanges led by the center to empower women and people with disabilities worldwide through sports.
As part of the program, which began Sunday, participants spend five weeks in the United States working with the UT center’s staff and other prominent leaders learning how to enact sports-based social change back home.
“The participants selected for this program have already demonstrated tremendous leadership, passion, and ingenuity in creating sports opportunities for persons with disabilities,” said Sarah Hillyer, director of the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. “Our job is to help them channel their passion, employ their skills, make new connections, and amplify their reach. We’re so excited for this year’s class and look forward to engaging in this life-changing experience together.”
Following a one-week orientation in Washington, DC, the international leaders will travel to top disability sport organizations across the United States to be mentored over the course of three weeks. These organizations include the US Olympic Committee (Colorado Springs, Colorado), the Lakeshore Foundation (Birmingham, Alabama), Special Olympics Washington (Seattle), the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Arlington. At these sites, the group will work with mentors to develop strategic action plans focused on creating opportunities for people with disabilities in their countries and enabling them to experience the benefits of sports, including expanded professional networks, increased independence, and economic empowerment. Along the way, they will meet with US government leaders, engage in US sports culture, and learn about landmark US legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This is the center’s seventh GSMP exchange program. For the first time, it includes leaders from Mongolia, Fiji, Georgia, Estonia, Suriname, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, expanding the initiative’s alumni base to 113 leaders from 63 countries. Since 2012, alumni from the program have mobilized almost 5,000 volunteers and impacted 100,000 people through sports workshops, clinics, and conferences. More than 90 percent of GSMP alumni have implemented their action plans after returning home, from founding nongovernmental organizations to launching new sports federations.
“Sport for Community is a true game changer, not just for the emerging leaders who participate but for the hundreds of persons with disabilities that have engaged in sport as a result of this program,” said Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the center. “Seeing the images of dragon boat racers in the Philippines or goalball players in post-disaster zones of Ecuador makes all of the hard work worth it. The smiles, friendships, independence, and sense of accomplishment reflected in those photos are a testament to the Sport for Community alumni and mentors who work tirelessly to make this program a success.”
The program will conclude in mid-April with presentations from the international leaders in Washington, DC. To follow GSMP: Sport for Community on social media, use the hashtags #S4C2017 and #Sport4All on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram.