“To every woman in sport, at all levels: work hard, set goals, dream big, never give up, lead and follow, and educate yourself. Together we are all stronger in sport.
That was the general message shared by Reinet Barnard, vice president of the Western Province Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (WPSAPD), at the fifth annual Women in Sport event.
The event was organized by the University of Cape Town ParaSports Club (UCT) and was held virtually on Saturday August 7, before National Women’s Day on Monday. Entitled “The Women Who Make Parasport Work,” the event provided a platform for those in alternative but vital roles in sport, such as administrators and classifiers, to share their athletic journeys.
Traditionally, the list of speakers for the event consists of one UCT sports enthusiast and two external speakers. But this year’s schedule was slightly different: it included Barnard, who spoke about his love for the Paralympic sport of boccia, and Tina Sachs, a national classifier for ParaVolley South Africa. Both were external speakers.
An endurance sport
Barnard, a trained physiotherapist, said her involvement in parasport began shortly after graduating 23 years ago, when she joined a school for children with physical disabilities.
“Sport is good for [strengthen the body] physically and [to boost] the self-confidence of the individual.
“Part of the physiotherapy rehabilitation program is to encourage learners to play sports. Sport is good for [strengthen the body] physically and [to boost] the [individual’s] self-confidence, ”she said.
In 2002, when Barnard joined the South African Sports Association for the Disabled in Gauteng, she fell head over heels in love with boccia, a sport for people with severe physical disabilities.
Boccia is an indoor sport that is played on a fixed ground; and because participants are unable to walk, they play while sitting in their wheelchairs. Each athlete is seated in a demarcated box of approximately 2.5 meters by 1 meter, and everything he needs to play (the wheelchair, the ramp, the ramp assistant and the balls) fits into the box. The sport boasts a classification of five categories, ranging from level one to level five; but according to Barnard, only the top four categories are allowed to compete internationally in events such as the Paralympics, which will kick off in Tokyo later this month.
“Classification is very important in this sport, and it is very important that athletes are properly classified. That way they don’t put other athletes playing in the same classification at a disadvantage, ”she said.
As an international boccia referee, level one coach and president of the WPSAPD, said Barnard, she remains in awe of what athletes with disabilities are able to accomplish in boccia.
“I was amazed to see what athletes [are able to achieve], and how precise they are, ”she said. “Boccia is a very exciting sport. It is also a sport of patience, and a sport of the mind – you have to be smarter than your opponent; and it is a sport of physical and mental endurance.
Inclusiveness in sport
Speaking to the audience on paravolley (sitting volleyball), Sachs said the sport targets both able-bodied and disabled athletes, and described it as inclusive and interactive.
Sachs and his partner Anton Raimondo introduced the sport to South Africa in 2014, and then established ParaVolley South Africa, a non-profit organization that promotes and develops sport in the country.
Paravolley is the Paralympic version of popular indoor standing volleyball and follows similar rules with a few minor exceptions. The main differences are: a smaller pitch, a lower net, a mixed group of players (men and women) and the players sit on the floor without any mobility equipment such as wheelchairs, prostheses or canes and crutches.
“This makes it a pretty cheap sport, and athletes don’t need to rely on fancy equipment – which is sometimes quite difficult to come by, especially in a developing country like South Africa,” Sachs said.
Currently there are around 15 operational clubs in South Africa, mainly in Limpopo and the Western Cape. Sachs, a qualified Paravolley Level One Classifier, also spoke about the importance of classification in disabled sport, particularly in Paravolley. She described the classification as a standardized process created to assess the impairment of each athlete following a diagnosis by a healthcare professional. Classifiers also group athletes according to their functional abilities, so as not to disadvantage other players on the team.
“It was great to be there to see South Africa play, and [to witness] the spirit and enthusiasm of all involved.
For Sachs, the highlight of his involvement in the sport was the African Paravolley Championships held in Rwanda in 2019.
“It was special to be part of a well-organized competition in another African country, and it was great to be there to see South Africa play, and [to witness] the spirit and enthusiasm of all involved. It was amazing, ”she said.
“When you see athletes giving their all and being a part of something so important and so special… that’s what drives me. “