International Athletes and American Mentors Change the World Through 'Sport for Community'

6 minutes read time
Photos of Ksenia Ovsyannikova and Vibhas Sen at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston with their mentor Mary Patstone and her team.
Photos of Ksenia Ovsyannikova and Vibhas Sen at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston with their mentor Mary Patstone and her team.

International Athletes and American Mentors Change the World Through 'Sport for Community'

Each year on April 6th people around the globe come together to celebrate the United Nation’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. As Nelson Mandela so insightfully stated, "sport has the power to change the world.” Every day, the State Department’s Sports Diplomacy division harnesses that power to bring people together through programs including Sports Envoy, Sports Grants, and the latest addition to the family, Sport for Community: Global Sports Mentoring Program on disability rights.

Sport for Community is designed to empower people with disabilities and promote rights and inclusion worldwide. This year, we welcomed 16 international emerging leaders in the disability sports sector to the United States for a mentorship exchange at top American adaptive sports organizations. The participants are currently finishing up their month-long mentorships in communities across the United States -- including Chicago; Arlington, Texas; and Charlestown, Massachusetts. Below are a few accounts from our partner, the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, explaining how these participants are connecting with Americans and impacting their organizations.

Ali Abou El Nasr, Egypt, S4C 2017 at Clemson University

Photos of Ali Abou El Nasr at Clemson University with his mentor Skye Arthur-Banning.

“For the players who had become blind later in life, it was the feeling of returning to something they once loved,” Ali said. “For those who had only listened to football on the radio, you could see their total joy kicking a ball for the first time. Playing put their confidence through the roof because all their lives they’d been told, ‘You’re blind, you can’t play football.’”

In 2014, Ali founded the NGO Blind Football Egypt and organized the country’s first ever blind national team. Since then, he has launched six teams in Cairo with approximately 100 players. In order to financially support their non-profit work, Ali and a business partner launched Cardinal Sports in 2015 as a consulting and development agency. The agency provides statistical data on the Egyptian men’s national team to the soccer federation, collaborates with the Ministry of Sports on grassroots soccer initiatives, and develops innovative sports performance technology.

Ali is on a mission to expand blind soccer throughout Egypt. Since laying the groundwork for the sport in Cairo, he has established important partnerships with the Egyptian Blind Sports Association and key sponsors, including Chevrolet. Now he needs the guidance of a mentor to create a sustainable blind soccer structure that propels the sport onto a national stage.

In South Carolina, Ali, co-founder of Blind Football Egypt, is learning from Skye Arthur-Banning, associate professor and head of referees for IFCPF -- International Federation of CP Football. The duo is developing a plan to grow the sport from Cairo to communities across Egypt. Together, Skye and Ali are combining their experiences as leaders and advocates in the world of disability sport to create a plan that paves a prosperous road for blind soccer players in Egypt.

Bolormaa Purevdorj, Mongolia, S4C 2017 at Special Olympics Washington

Photos of Bolormaa Purevdorj at Special Olympics Washington in Seattle with her mentor Dave Lenox.

“I want to empower special children so they can become community leaders, and sport is a really important way of doing this,” Bolormaa said. “We measure how our athletes begin to lose weight and improve their health as they participate. This improves their self-esteem, self-confidence, and regular class attendance, too. The kids then start to see themselves as role models and want to help others.”

With Special Olympics International’s support grant ending in 2018, one of Bolormaa’s key priorities is to secure organizational funding for the future. Outside of Special Olympics, the Paralympic Committee, and Achilles International, children with disabilities have few other opportunities to access sports in Mongolia. Bolormaa, national director of Special Olympics Mongolia, believes advocacy to government and private companies is the key to sustainability.

Bolormaa wants to mobilize communities throughout her country to grow the impact of the Special Olympics movement. In order to achieve her goals, she's working with Dave Lenox, a 30-year veteran of the movement who is currently CEO of Special Olympics Washington.

JP Maunes, Philippines, S4C 2016 at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

JP Maunes at the at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

“I really appreciate the amount of time and effort that [U.S. mentors] Derek and Stephanie took to raise me up to a level where I can empower myself,” JP said. “This experience has widened my perspective about how I see things and can get change done when I return home. And I feel reassured to know RIC also had humble beginnings. If they can do it, so can I.”

Since returning home from his experience, JP Maunes has been working diligently toward ensuring rights for people with disabilities in his community and throughout the Philippines. In less than nine months, the impact of JP’s participation in the GSMP has been felt by thousands of people in his city. He maintains a close relationship with fellow alumni in the Philippines and the U.S. Embassy. In October, he collaborated with Sports Diplomacy alumni and Sports Envoy Eric Hodgson of USA Volleyball to host sitting volleyball clinics in Cebu, where he reached more than 250 athletes, trainers, and community members. In March, JP organized the largest event since his return home: a Break the Silence 5k run to increase awareness of assault and abuse of people with disabilities, especially those in the deaf community. With 10,000 runners expected to participate, PADS is partnering with organizations to mirror this event in Manila, London, San Francisco, Melbourne, Ulaanbaatar, Barbacena and other cities across six continents.

Read all of this year’s participant’s stories and more on the Global Sports Mentoring Program Facebook page and website. Join the conversation around the UN International Day of Sport for Development and Peace using the hashtag #IDSDP.

About the Author: Nathan Arnold serves for Director of Media Relations in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at U.S. Department of State.