Nearly 10 years after members of the Spanish basketball team were uncovered as frauds, intellectually disabled (ID) athletes were re-admitted into future Paralympic Games after a landmark decision by officials in Kuala Lumpur last week.
The decision by the general assembly of the International Paralympic Committee to formally ratify a motion for the re-inclusion of ID athletes from the 2012 Paralympic Games in London was welcomed by Hong Kong officials who believe sports like athletics, swimming and table tennis will benefit.
'We are pleased that intellectually disabled athletes can compete for medals at the Paralympics again. Hong Kong has a good record and our chances for medals will be high in London,' said Malina Ngai Man-lin, a council member of the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Mentally Handicapped.
At the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, 14-year-old Lai Wai-ling grabbed gold in table tennis, while Tsang Ka-yan won a bronze in the long jump. It was at these same Games that 10 members of the Spanish basketball team created a scandal after it was uncovered they had cheated.
Subsequent to the controversy, the IPC took the painful decision to suspend all athletes with ID from taking part in the Paralympic Games. The 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games were only open for physically handicapped athletes with ID athletes only allowed to take part in demonstration events.
However, an assessment system worked out by Inas - the international federation for sport for athletes with intellectual disability - met the approval of the IPC in Kuala Lumpur, opening the door for the athletes. 'Our main focus for the 2012 Paralympics will once again be mainly on the three sports - athletics, swimming and table tennis,' Ngai said. 'Athletes will have to achieve a certain position in the world ranking and pass an assessment test both in Hong Kong and internationally before they can earn a ticket to London.'
Even during the hiatus, the Hong Kong government hadn't stopped its support for ID athletes with the highest amount of financial subsidy being HK$65,000 per athlete. While thankful for the assistance, Ngai hoped with medals being at stake once again, the government would increase the subsidy.
'We hope the government can increase its financial grant to the association so we can employ overseas coaches to prepare the athletes as well as send them for training and competition abroad,' Ngai said.
She also urged the Hong Kong Sports Institute to get in on the act and called for more financial help from this quarter, too.
'For the development of the athletes, we need to make full use of the Sports Institute's facilities such as physical training room, psychological counselling, physiotherapy and nutritional advice. We need psychiatrists and psychologists accompanying our athletes for overseas training and competition. The entire support system must be there.'
Table tennis gold medallist Lai, meanwhile, is already gearing up for London.
'Lai is thrilled at the chance of winning a Paralympic medal again,' Ngai said. 'She is preparing for her second attempt and will make use of the time between now and 2012 preparing. It is difficult to say how many medals Hong Kong will win, but one thing I'm sure, all the athletes will be doing their best.'