HK health chief helped expand horizons in sport for the disabled
As a doctor and sports fan, Hong Kong health chief York Chow Yat-ngok has seen first-hand how disabled people grow more confident and proud once they begin to compete in sport.
This inspired him to help expand the number of sports the disabled could consider taking up, so people with severe physical afflictions were not shut out.
'I have witnessed immense changes in the personalities of disabled athletes after taking up sports. Their attitude to life is no longer shy but filled with pride and confidence,' the secretary for food and health said.
'Sport brings about self-determination from all athletes and plays down dependence on welfare and sympathy. What they need is our encouragement and support. Sports activities expand their social circle which leads to a better quality of life.'
The orthopaedic surgeon first became involved with sports for the disabled in 1981 when he started travelling with the Hong Kong team for overseas competitions.
'My first experience was to go with a wheelchair basketball team to the Stoke Mandeville Games in Britain,' said Dr Chow, who was then under the mentorship of Sir Harry Fang, the 'grandfather' of disabled sport in Hong Kong. 'Back then, the Games in Britain were the holy grail for sportsmen with a disability. We were defeated, but it never took away from the experience.'
The success of Hong Kong hosting the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled in 1982 at the newly opened Sha Tin Sports Institute boosted his participation.
'At that time, Sir Harry Fang, who pioneered the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, asked me to be help with the medical team.'
He knew from experience the devastation an injury or a disability can do to a patient's mind. The challenge was to find more niches to help patients.
'Research is what we did. We looked into the specific disability classification and discovered more potential sports like table tennis, wheelchair fencing and shooting.
'We didn't stop there. What about the people who are severely disabled? We looked into niche sports for people with cerebral palsy and later introduced boccia, [a ball game], which uses mental strategy coupled with handling of the ball. More than 30 years on, the association provides 14 kinds of sports.'
The Paralympics were expensive, however, and it was difficult to line up sponsorship, he said.
'In the past, it was typical to see governments apply for Olympic Games and not consider organising the Paralympics. Imagine you've 4,000 to 5,000 Paralympians and you need 5,000 staff in order to run the event; it's high-expenditure and only government-funded.'
He noted the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992 cost a huge amount of money. Fortunately, the money came from a local lottery fund controlled by an association for the blind.
Dr Chow will attend the Paralympics in Beijing and support Hong Kong's 21 Paralympians. 'It's not just about the medals. Our athletes will perform and make us proud.'