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4 Dec, 2008 20:31

New swimming championship enables the disabled

The first ever Aleksandr Popov Cup swimming competition for the disabled has started in Moscow. Athletes from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine arrived in the Russian capital for this inaugural sports event named in honour of the four-time Olympic Champion.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was marked on December 3. Russian authorities dedicated ten days to the event instead of one, during which they arranged various special events.

Among them, a swimming meet in Moscow saw the country's paralympic heroes in action to serve as an inspiration to others.

It's hoped the Aleksandr Popov Cup, sponsored by the Moscow government, will become an international one, attracting paralympic athletes from the around the world.

The event has already been graced by the presence of a couple of Olympic multi-medal champions.

Aleksandr Karelin is a Greco-Roman wrestler and three-time Olympic Champion. He believes the development of sport for people with disabilities is on the rise in Russia.

“First of all, I'm glad we all stopped being shy of people who are physically or mental disadvantaged. And second, all the sport facilities that exist today are open to them on the same terms as everyone else. Plus, I know that our Paralympic Committee is being restructured now and this will help reorganise regional branches as well,” he said.

In most countries, around 10 % of the population lives with disabilities. In Russia, that amounts to about 14 million people.

Twenty years ago the authorities preferred to look away when it came to caring for the disadvantaged, but today the situation has reversed and an increasing number of people are getting involved in various sports groups.
Dmitry Volkov, two-time Olympic bronze medalist in breaststroke swimming, says that without help from the government, events like these, and Russia's participation at paralympic games, would be impossible.

The Beijing Paralympics saw the rise of the Russians: the team won 18 gold medals and 11 of them came from swimming events.

Moscow athletes are playing an integral part in those achievements. Now the authorities want to spread the investment all across Russia.

Aleksandr Popov says a similar tournament will take place roughly ten days from now in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg.