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Burma will hold the 7th Asean Para Games for athletes with physical disabilities in the capital Naypyidaw next week, fresh off its hosting of the Southeast Asian Games last month.
Over 1,500 athletes from the 10-nation regional grouping, plus East Timor, will contest in 12 different sporting events during the week-long competition from Jan. 14-20, said Aung Nyi Nyi Maw, who serves as a consultant for the Myanmar Paralympic Sports Federation.
The opening ceremony will take place next Tuesday at Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Naypyidaw, also a major venue for the 27th Southeast Asia Games that concluded on Dec. 22. Burma will send 213 athletes to the upcoming contest, supported by 57 coaches and support staff, according to Aung Nyi Nyi Maw.
The sports to be contested are archery, athletics, volleyball, boccia, chess, football (5-a-side and 7-a-side), goalball, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis and basketball.
“This is a very exciting moment for our disabled athletes, as we are able to host the event in our own country,” said Myat Thu Win, who heads the Shwe Minn Tha Foundation, which supports disabled people in Burma. “We never had such big fan support for us in the past, but this time, being host, it is an encouragement to our athletes.”
Burma’s athletic contingent to the Games has swelled considerably since that last iteration of the biannual competition, with nearly 180 new participants compared with the delegation that it sent to the 2011 competition in Solo, Indonesia. Burma will also field competitors in all 12 sporting events, and is one of only two participating countries, along with Thailand, to do so, according to Aung Myin Htun, who competed for Burma in international swimming competitions from 1994-2001 and has been coaching the country’s swimmers ahead of next week’s Games.
Athletes as young as 15 years old who are visually or hearing impaired, or are otherwise physically disabled, will compete in the Para Games.
“We hope for the best in this sporting event, despite that other countries provide better support to their athletes than ours,” said Myat Thu Win.
“We contested in the previous Games in other countries with fewer fans, but this year, we hope [the competition] will have a positive impact for Myanmar’s disabled persons,” he added, saying the Games offered an opportunity to raise public awareness for those with disabilities, who make up about 2 percent of Burma’s estimated 60 million people, according to a 2010 survey by the Department of Social Welfare.
“It [the Asean Para Games] is special as it focuses on equality for disabled athletes. The Games allow all to participate. Our motto ‘Friendship, Equality and Unity,’ emphasizes no discrimination for the outstanding athletes despite their being physically disabled,” said Aung Nyi Nyi Maw.
He said about 500 officials from the contesting countries will arrive on Wednesday of this week, followed by the arrival of contesting athletes on Saturday.
Burmese nationals who hold a national ID card will be eligible to attend the Games’ sports competitions for free, and can register to do so at Wunna Theikdi Stadium and Athletes Village accreditation centers.
Tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies—the latter scheduled for Jan. 20—will be sold at Wunna Theikdi Stadium beginning on Saturday, said Aung Nyi Nyi Maw.
The tickets can also be bought at accreditation centers and cost 3,000 kyats (US$3) for regular seats and 5,000 kyats for premium seating. There will be 8,000 tickets available to the general public and the rest will be reserved for athletes and officials, added Aung Nyi Nyi Maw.
The Asean Para Games were first held in 2001 in Kuala Lumpur. Burma has sent athletes to compete in the sporting event since its inception, but it is the first time the country has played host.
From Dec. 11-22, Burma hosted the Southeast Asian Games in Naypyidaw, Rangoon, Mandalay and Ngwe Saung Beach. The country took second place in the medal tally, winning 86 golds behind only Thailand, which took home 107.