Importance of Sports Activities and Safeguard Regulation for the Development and Protection of Children with Disabilities

Credits: Inclusion through Sports for Children with Developmental Disabilities

Sports in all forms must be available to every child, professionally planned, without discrimination, with developed protective procedures, while providing equal opportunities for boys and girls of all abilities and respecting the special needs of every age child.

It is estimated that as many as 10% of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina has physical, sensory, developmental, mental or emotional forms of disability, and 30% of the total population is directly or indirectly affected by the consequences of the disability. Regarding the Law on Sports in BiH – Amendments to the Law on Sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina have established provisions relating to persons with disabilities. These provisions enable support for persons with disabilities – athletes and eliminate discrimination, and guarantee basic human rights and freedoms. However, due to the generally poor financial situation, prejudice and lack of awareness of the impact of sports on the multiple developments of persons with disabilities, a large percentage of children, youth and adults with disabilities do not have equal access to sports and health activities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is still no developed awareness of the impact of sport on people with disabilities, especially people with intellectual disabilities. Children with disabilities need comprehensive and flexible support and opportunity for equal participation in society with other children. At the level of the regulatory framework, significant progress has been made, but children with disabilities continue to face significant barriers to accessing available and quality services daily. 

The role of sports in the developmental period for children is irreplaceable from both the social and health aspects. Access to sports activities is crucial for children with disabilities. It gives them an opportunity for inclusion and helps them develop motor skills. Special Olympics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through the project Inclusion through Sports for Children with Developmental Disabilities, aims to provide children without ID and the wider community with the opportunity to learn about ID and become more inclusive in safe environment. Most children with intellectual disabilities and their families have limited access to critical early developmental programs. Through this project,  provides the opportunity and access to sports development programs for children with and without developmental difficulties. The program develops cognitive, social and motor skills in children with ID and reduces the risk of marginalization. 

The ability of parents in BiH to include children with disabilities in a regular sports program in BiH is difficult. The reasons are discrimination, poor financial situation, lack of professional staff as well as parents’ fear that their child will not be safe during training and competition. Parent Sabina Šunjić told us about her fear and obstacles to include her daughter with difficulties in sports activities: “When Edna turned 5, we started looking for sports activities for her. During that period, children with difficulties in regular education were not accepted, not to mention in sports. We were persistent, with the support of the community and SOBiH Edna is a successful athlete today. She trains in swimming, table tennis and skiing, but I have to emphasize that all this happened because of support based on free will and not systemic support. I was afraid that my child would be unprotected in training. Will her peers tease her, would she be supervised, the certain heavy things she is not allowed to do because she had heart surgery? I was afraid of both physical and mental injuries. Today I am confident in the club where Erna trains and in the activities of the Special Olympics but I should still not let her go alone to other sports activities, not because Edna is not independent but because of my fear that she will not be safe. For this reason, it is necessary to pay more attention to safety processes and seek to introduce them systematically in all clubs, organizations that work with children, especially with children with disabilities. I am especially glad that SOBiH provides a safe environment for children with disabilities and that it is working on the introduction of safeguarding procedures“.

The project focuses on integrated play for children and offers a solution for social exclusion. One of the solutions is inclusive competition. SOBiH organized an inclusive competition marking the European Football Week in Tuzla and Sarajevo, which was attended by about 200 children and young people with and without developmental difficulties. To organize a regular training process as well as competitions, a large number of experts are involved in the process, from certified trainers for working with children to experts in the field of pedagogy and special education. Thanks to this project, experts and the introduced standards of safeguarding in the activities of SOBIH, today more children with disabilities have access to sports. This is confirmed by Mrs. Amira Pestalić, the mother of an eight-year-old child with disabilities:”. I was afraid to involve the child in sports activities somewhere else. My son is non-verbal, and if something happens he could not tell me, however I have full confidence in the association Soci, and in SOBiH. They really work with love. He is regularly involved in joint activities with SOBiH and I am proud of that”.

Inclusion through Sports for Children with Developmental Disabilities

One of the associates of SOBIH, the Football Association of the of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also aims to introduce Safeguarding procedures together with SOBIH. “The Football Association of BiH is introducing a program related to Child safeguarding, in our training centres, we will introduce the training of coaches and staff in the field of safeguarding. Everyone, especially parents expect the sport to have a positive impact, but sometimes this is not the case, because every form of discrimination and abuse negatively affects the development of children and the whole life of a person. As a woman who plays “men’s sport” football, I still feel discriminated against, but we all fight together to overcome discrimination and make it easier for today’s girls.“, said Ivana Vlajic, representative of the Football Association of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Grassroot manager.

By organization of the competition as well as the accompanying training program, education and health program, we will facilitate the awareness that the competitions of people with intellectual disabilities require training according to the rules of sports, including the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities. In addition to the organizing of the competitions, the implementation of this project will strengthen the capacity of all organizations in the form of shared knowledge and practice and the introduction of safeguarding procedures, we will also get educated parents, judges, volunteers. 


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