Sport builds bridges to society

sports competition OAZA boccia

Oaza, an organisation by and for persons with intellectual disabilities, has established a national sports competition for persons with disabilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the help of FIFH in Malmö. The competition is the first of its kind, and the results have exceeded expectations.

Over the course of the three years that the competition has been held, it has gradually grown and attracted increasing coverage in the media. The government, public agencies, the business world and famous sportsmen and women have got involved in supporting the competition.

– I´m incredibly impressed by what they’ve achieved, says Binasa Goralija, MyRight’s country coordinator in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The project is not, as one might imagine, just about athletics and sport. It is about the right to meaningful recreation and about growing and developing as an individual. It is also about creating a forum where people from different parts of society come together, which improves the conditions for persons with disabilities to take part in society as equal citizens.

Large swathes of society have rallied behind the event. It has received financial support from the government, the City of Sarajevo, the United Nations’ global development network UNDP and a host of different businesses. Famous sports clubs in the country have openly shown their support for the event and the police have had special training in how to include a disability perspective in security work.

Partnership with Sweden has been important

Oaza’s Swedish partner organisation FIFH – an association based in Malmö that promotes sport for persons with disabilities – has worked with Oaza for many years. Each year, FIFH organises the Malmö Open, one of the world’s most significant sports competitions for persons with disabilities.

Kille som stöter kula.
– Over the years that we’ve worked with Oaza, they’ve developed enormously. Having started as a relatively weak organisation, they’re now a force to be reckoned with, and they do a really professional job. They’ve improved and developed their physical facilities and their activities, says Sinisa Kedza, FIFH’s coordinator of international collaborations.

Arranging a sports competition on this scale is a major project and the support from the Swedish partner organisation has been vital.

– By contributing our experience concerning structure and how to approach this type of event, we’ve helped to shorten the path from idea to implementation, says Sinisa Kedza. Alongside putting money into the project, much of the focus has been on changing the attitude of the members. Encouraging them to act for themselves and create change, rather than waiting for directives and changes from the top.

International successes have brought invaluable experience and publicity

With Oaza’s sporting men and women being able to take part in competitions in other countries such as Greece and Sweden, the members themselves have experienced what it takes for the competitions to be a success.

Oaza’s members have taken several gold medals in the international sports competitions, and enjoyed a hero’s welcome on their return home. This has generated plenty of publicity in the media and the President has even met the sports stars to congratulate them on their successes. It has also led to the President leading the opening ceremony for Oaza’s own competition.

Sport opens new doors to a meaningful life

The number of competitors in the Open Games OASA has gradually grown. In 2014, the figure was 550 people from both Bosnia-Herzegovina and the neighbouring countries of Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. Media interest in the competition has also risen, and last year there was extensive reporting in both the leading morning newspaper and on TV.

– In our experience, sports and athletics are a natural way to help reduce exclusion and increase people’s self-esteem. People who previously felt extremely isolated gain friends, contacts, self-confidence – much of what you need for a meaningful life. For many, it’s a first step towards greater inclusion in society, concludes Sinisa Kedza.

Lina Jakobsson