Cambodia’s National Mines Awareness Day held special significance in Battambang yesterday for eight disabled tennis players, some of whom are landmine victims now actively involved in Tennis Cambodia’s Wheelchair Program funded by the International Tennis Federation.
Out of the 17 custom-made sports wheelchairs, costing about $2,500 each and donated to Tennis Cambodia jointly by the ITF and Pakistan Davis Cupper Aisam Qureshi’s Stop War Start Tennis Foundation, eight were given to the Battambang players at a simple function at the La Paloma Centre for the Disabled,where the program was launched nearly 18 months ago.
While 12 wheelchairs were funded by the world governing body, five were paid for by Qureshi’s foundation, which aims to use the sport as a bridge to unite communities and nations torn apart by conflict.
“It is a great day for us. As a project country of ITF’s Wheelchair Program, we are proud to take this big step after the Australian Academy Wheelchair coach Joe Kubizniak set the ball rolling with that players clinic last October,” secretary-general of Tennis Cambodia Tep Rithivit said.
“With these specially made tennis wheelchairs, players will enjoy the game more than ever and become more skilful. We thank the ITF and the Stop War Start Tennis Foundation for this magnanimous gesture,” he said.
“I am the happiest man today. We have been striving hard to create an inclusive society and to be able to provide these tennis players with the best of the best equipment is indeed a remarkable step forward,” said Father Kike Figerado, the Bishop of the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang, which runs both the Aruppe Karuna Welcome Center for the Disabled and the La Paloma Centre.
Tennis Cambodia’s Global Goodwill Ambassador Hisae Arai, who is also the managing director of the NGO Three Hearts Foundation, said the new wheelchairs meant a totally new career path for these players.
Her visit to Battambang coincides with her participation alongside her THF associate Kaori Iizuka in a mines awareness event in Pailin today as representatives from the Japan Mines Action Services.
The eight players given with the new wheelchairs were, Tik Toy, Sovann Ravid, Saen Kimsuo, Thoo Thuen, Sang Makara, Khean Chen, Ngek Pheak, Thav Thed and Phee Somart.
Joe Kubizniak, delegated by the ITF, conducted a two-day players clinic in Battambang last October after holding sessions over three days with several coaches in Phnom Penh to help them cope with the challenges of wheelchair tennis
The ITF Wheelchair Development Fund aims to promote long-lasting wheelchair programs in designated countries.
Dutch football legend Johan
Cruyff’s foundation has been supportive of the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Fund since 2003. As Cruyff himself put it: “As a player I always believed in the power of working together in bringing good people and groups in contact with each other in order for them to work as a team.”