BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Athletes with “severe and profound” intellectual disabilities  are now able to join the Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam (SOBD) with a new sports programme hoped to strengthen inclusivity.

Speaking during a talk organised by the association on Sunday, Khairul Hasrin, a physiotherapist from the Ministry of Health, said that the Motor Activity Training Programme (MATP) has only just been introduced to the Asia Pacific region by Special Olympics International.

“We cannot deny that there is a section of the community that are excluded from participating in Special Olympics, and we feel like they may feel left behind because of this,” he said in an interview with The Scoop.

The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, which provides year-round training and competitions for more than five million athletes in 174 countries.

Special Olympics athletes from Brunei competing in a football tournament in 2016. Photo: SOBD/Facebook

Khairul said that the MATP was developed for athletes with “severe and profound” intellectual disability and/or significant physical disabilities, who are unable to participate in official Special Olympics sport competitions because of their skills and functional abilities.

“It is one of our missions to make sure that everyone can participate in sports and other recreational activities regardless of the level of their ability,” he added.

The MATP is not a competitive training programme but it is designed to help athletes develop their gross motor skills, as well as provide them with a platform to participate in sports activities.

However, the programme does help identify athletes that have acquired skills that can lead selection for official Special Olympics competition, the physiotherapist added.

Dawn Lee, the National Director of SOBD, said there is still prevalent stigma surrounding those who have “severe and profound” intellectual and physical disabilities.

“We will not be sure how many MATP athletes we are going to find [because] even if we have the resources to seek out these individuals, it is never a guarantee that the parents or families will allow their participation.”

She said even though there is more empathy nowadays, children with disabilities are often hidden from the public, with parents fearing their kids will be ridiculed.

With the introduction of the MATP, Special Olympics Brunei now has seven official sports programs to offer individuals with intellectual disabilities including athletics, badminton, bocce, bowling, football and golf.

With 1,265 registered athletes and unified partners as per their 2015 census, the organsation has already reached one of its goals — to reach a thousand athletes and participants by the end of 2015.

“We have not set a new target but surely with the inclusivity of the MATP, it can definitely help us gain more participants,” Khairul said. “The skills that individuals can acquire through the MATP may improve how they go about their daily activities, and improve their quality of life.”