The youths were seated by sport and school at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Play Inclusive event, a sporting meet for students from both mainstream and special education schools alike. When it was time for the group photograph, however, the different teams melded together as one for the picture, providing an evocative sight as they moved together into a huddle.
Floorball action at the Play Inclusive 2018. Photo: Sport Singapore
Co-organised by Special Olympics Singapore and SportCares, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Play Inclusive 2018 was touted as Singapore’s largest unified sport competition. The event saw a two-way exchange as athletes with intellectual disabilities and the unified partners – athletes without special needs – picking up lessons from each other through sport.
Incidentally, Special Olympics Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, making this milestone event all the more significant.
As Special Olympics Singapore president Teo-Koh Sock Miang shared: “Today’s event showcases the power of sport in bringing together all athletes, those with and without intellectual disabilities or special needs, onto the same playing field. It provides the platform and opportunity for everyone to come together to celebrate inclusion, friendship, and respect for diversity.”
An estimated total of 450 participants from 38 different schools came together to compete in badminton, basketball, floorball, and football. Each team, which comprised students from special education and mainstream schools alike, had to train together for a minimum of eight weeks to qualify for Play Inclusive 2018.
“The unique element is that they’ve actually trained for a few months before coming together. This allows them to really interact meaningfully. Each special school is partnered with at least one mainstream school, and they have regular training sessions. It’s not just about coming together to play sport for one day,” explained SportCares Director Kerk Kim Por.
Indeed, the athletes and unified partners alike were able to learn from each other, and they cited communication and trust as some of the lessons garnered.
Nanyang Junior College student Tan Lin Jie (back row, first from right) and her team mates. Photo: Sport Singapore
Nanyang Junior College student Tan Lin Jie, who competed in the basketball competition, said: “We don’t always get to interact with students with special needs and you don’t really know their background. They’re really just like us, perhaps they just need more time to pick up the skills. But once they do, they can actually be better than us!”
“In team sport, it’s all about dynamics and teamwork. We have to learn how to cooperate with them and allow them to play in the game, and not just carry the whole game without them. And, in the process, we learnt to trust each other,” she continued.
In fact, penalties are given out if the unified partners dominate a match during a unified sport competition.
As Kerk concurred: “They have to work together to play in a team sport. They need to communicate instead of just doing their own things. In this journey of communication, they will understand one another better. People with special needs might have a different way of communicating, so playing together helps us to find a way to communicate meaningfully and work together towards a common goal.”
The actual event also yielded other learnings for the participants as they got a keener understanding of the value of sport beyond competition. To several, friendships took precedence as they had fun playing together, regardless of abilities.
APSN Tanglin student Muhammad Syakir Bin Mohd Azli (front row, second from left) and his team mates. Photo: Sport Singapore
Having trained for and participated in the football competition, APSN Tanglin student Muhammad Syakir Bin Mohd Azli remarked: “I learnt that in sport, it’s not always about winning and losing. We’re here to play friendly games, make new friends, and enjoy our time together!”
Ultimately, as Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung summed up: “We must always know that all of us are born differently, but we are all Singaporeans and living in the same society.”
“We will play together and work together,” he stated.