Malaysia’s second major sporting event of the year takes place this month as the 9th ASEAN Para Games return to the country for a third historic time, featuring a total of 16 sports to be contested from 17-23 September. Some 1,452 athletes will be touching down for the biennial multisport event – the most ever in Para Games history – which sees participation from 11 Southeast Asian nations: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.
Carrying the theme ‘Rising Together’, this year’s Para Games are the first to be held after the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015 and therefore carry extra weight as they will help to bring together individuals from each of these nations in a show of friendship and solidarity.
Organised under the regulation of the ASEAN Para Sports Federation, the 9th ASEAN Para Games will be held across multiple states in Malaysia with the bulk of the events taking place in Kuala Lumpur. Sports clusters such as the KL Sports City and Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC), heavily utilised for the 29th SEA Games last month, will once again come to life as athletes push themselves to the limit in these spaces.
A Brief History
Compared to the SEA Games’ much longer lifespan, the ASEAN Para Games are a young event which was born when Paralympic Committees met at the 2000 Malaysia Para Games to lay the foundations of the ASEAN Para Games. It was agreed there to create a regional, ASEAN-level sporting event to support persons with disabilities. Until then, paralympic athletes competed at invitationals and as guests only at the Malaysia Para Games and at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled.
Modelled after the Paralympic Games, the ASEAN Para Games are the parallel sports event for athletes with disabilities held after the SEA Games, and traditionally hosted by the same country with a few exceptions over the years. A common misconception is that the ‘Para’ in the name is an abbreviation for paraplegic, when it actually refers to the parallel nature of the event. Malaysia holds an extra special place in the history of the event as it hosted the inaugural Para Games in 2001, with this year being its third time playing host, more than any other nation on the roster.
The all-time medal tally reveals that Thailand is the ASEAN Para Games powerhouse with 971 gold medals and 1,956 medals overall, compared to Malaysia’s 458 gold medals and 1,148 medals overall.
This year, 368 gold medals will be up for grabs, mostly in para athletics (133) and para swimming (84). Malaysia will be looking to top the field as it deploys its greatest ever contingent of 331 athletes competing in all sports categories. A target of 103 gold medals has been set, and the host nation will be banking on its athletes to deliver in four main sports – athletics, cycling, swimming and tenpin bowling.
Six-time overall champions Thailand, however, offers stiff competition with a contingent of 291 athletes competing in 15 of the 16 sports. Other strong contenders include Vietnam, which has only six fewer gold medals overall than Malaysia, and Indonesia which stood at the top of the medal tally at the 2014 edition of the Games.
Meanwhile, Timor-Leste makes its first appearance in the Games since 2011 and will be wanting to take home its first gold medal.
Catch The Action
The upgrading and improvement on infrastructure and sporting facilities for KL2017 has been widespread among the venues with the KL Sports City being the biggest project. A large number of the sports, including para archery, para athletics, para badminton, 5-a-side football, cerebral palsy football and para swimming will be held here, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.
MITEC, which stands as the largest exhibition centre in the country, and the second largest sporting hub for KL2017 – will host a wide array of sports such as boccia, chess, para powerlifting, para table tennis, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
Goalball, a team sport played exclusively by visually impaired athletes with bell-embedded balls, will also be contested at MITEC.
Meanwhile, guests can catch track cycling at the brand new National Velodrome in Nilai, road cycling at Putrajaya, tenpin bowling at the Pyramid Mega Lanes in Sunway Pyramid, and Wheelchair Tennis at the Tennis Complex in Jalan Duta.
To level the playing field between disabled athletes, a classification system is used across all elite paracompetitions, helping to group similarly impaired individuals together. This system determines eligibility for each sport and takes into consideration the degree of activity limitation caused by each impairment.
Authorised technical officials called Classifiers are appointed by each sport to assess athletes and assign them to a particular sport class. This is an ongoing process and takes place before each competition.
In Athletics for example, each class has two digits: the first represents an athlete’s impairments and the second the amount of functional ability. The T11-T13 classification denotes Track athletes with visual impairments, while T31-T38 denotes those with cerebral palsy. F20 then refers to a Field athlete with a learning disability, and F40-46, those with impairments that affect arms and legs including amputees.
Visit paralympic.org for more detailed information.