The hosting of the event indicates Korea’s progress in welfare
Men’s team is strong enough to compete in the quarterfinals
For women, there are no official teams
“I was not aware of a huge barrier. The awareness of para-sport events is quite low.”
For the first time in its history, Korea has been chosen to host the World Wheelchair Basketball Championship. To be held between July 3-15, the 2014 Incheon Championship is a preliminary event for the 2014 Incheon Asian Para Games in October.
With only three months left until teams from different countries arrive in Incheon, there is one person who works day and night. It is the Organizing Committee Executive Director Byun Hyocheol who currently serves as the vice president for International University of Korea and a member of the board of directors at the Korea Education and Research Information Service.
Launched in December last year, the Organizing Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Kim Jangsil(Saenuri Party lawmaker) and Executive Director Byun, has committed to complete the event successfully. While Kim leads and represents the committee to fulfill its purpose, Byun secures and manages budget.
“It shocked me that people were indifferent to para-sport. Despite their active involvement in other sports events, companies are not interested in making investment in para-sport because it barely draws interest from the public and the media. ‘A league of their own’ is how most people think about it.”
Compared to able-bodied events, para-sport games are costly because they require facilities for the disabled and the first-class accommodation. Against this backdrop, only advanced economies can afford to hold such events. In this regard, Korea’s hosting of the World Wheelchair Basketball Championship implies the evolution of welfare for people with disabilities. According to Byun, however, there is still a long way to go.
“I have been highlighting the significance of corporate social responsibility and asking major companies in vain to take part in the event. In rare cases, some said they would, willingly. I was moved by their decision which, I believe, will reap fruitful results, not necessarily limited to economic benefits.
Players have acquired disabilities, mostly due to car accidents. I think automobile manufacturers have a pivotal role to play in running wheelchair basketball teams. The government should also provide support for para-sport.“
While Japan has more than 100 wheelchair basketball teams, Korea only has 29 teams, 19 teams of disable-bodied athletes and 10 teams of able-bodied players, mostly run by universities with the Department of Adapted Physical Education.
Korea’s men’s national wheelchair basketball team has improved greatly: The team is competent enough to advance to the quarterfinals. In 2012, Kim Donghyun became the first Korean to play in the European Wheelchair Basketball Championship. Kim currently plays for Italy’s Santo Stefano.
On the contrary, women lag far behind due to lack of support. They don’t even have a team to play in the second Asian Para Games which will be staged by their home country.
“I would say para-sport without wheelchair basketball is unthinkable, just as track and field is nothing without marathon. This is why paralympics always ends with a fiery wheelchair basketball finals play-off.
Currently, Korea does not have a women’s national wheelchair basketball team nor female professional players. Those who can play basketball in their wheelchair are very old. Now, there is a great need to sponsor female players so that wheelchair basketball can make a full bloom. The Organizing Committee Chairman Kim and I are pulling wisdom to come up with strategies that the government can implement to promote the development of women’s wheelchair basketball.”
Asking people to come to the event, Byun said “People with disabilities have been stricken with a victim mentality. They have almost always been powerless minorities. Your interest would encourage them to enjoy sports and live a better life.”