Can sport help a disabled person overcome their limitations and break the wall of mistrust that society feeds towards them? The answer is ‘yes’: a loud and clear ‘yes’, and Daniel Fabbri is a tangible proof. A member of the Pope John XXIII Community Association, Daniel founded the association “Meeting without barriers”. Together with other volunteers, this association has given life to a basketball team on a wheelchair, called “Wheelchair Basketball Forlì”. Ten teenagers with congenital problems or issues resulting from traumas train once a week in a municipal gym in the city of Forli. “There was a small group at the beginning, then other teenagers drew near to us. At first, they did so with curiosity and skepticism, then with more and more passion and desire to learn and improve,” Daniel says.
Sports is for everyone, this is the mantra of the association with which Daniel is visiting schools in whole Italy to raise awareness among young people about the importance of sports as a means of integration: this project is supported by the Paralympic Committee and by the “Forlì Savings Bank” Foundation. “It is vital that young people can draw near to the disability world without falling victims to prejudice and fear, which, unfortunately, prevail in our society, in ways that are often unexpected.”
Often, such prejudice turn into actual aversion towards disability. Experts call it handifobia – from the French terms handicapé and phobie -, which means pure annoyance by the disabled and their needs. Many people have this defense reaction faced with something they are unfamiliar with, which scares them and calls into question their certainties. An insult to the dignity of those who struggle with impairments, pain, and disability.
Sports becomes thus a unique opportunity to meet diversity and learn not to be afraid of it: “two junior high school students – Daniel explains – have begun to train with us to be close to their classmate affected by Duchenne Syndrome. Choices like theirs make us realize the importance of emotional and relational ties with those next to us. “These friendships are bound to last for a long time, because they are based on familiarity with the limitations and strengths of the other.
Those kinds of sports that involve more physical contact, such as judo, can be great educational tools too. It is exactly physical contact that breaks down barriers between children who are disabled and those who are not. “Judo tests and develops resistance and strength, but it aims also at discipline, respect for the rules and for the other – Daniel explains -. One’s attitude changes already after a few meetings, from diffidence to engagement, allowing people to sow the seeds of a relationship that can develop further.”
Daniel’s story is not an isolated case. There are dozens of associations in Italy whose goal is to involve people with disabilities in sports activities of different kinds, but all of them have the same problem: lack of funds. “I need more time, employees, and resources – Daniel says -. To modernize the equipment of our basketball team, for instance. “The kids of the ‘Wheelchair Basketball Forlì’ team need new chairs to keep training, both to play basketball and to face life. Above all, they need lots of love.
Freely adapted from Always