Panel Discussion on Sports for Inclusive Development: Sports, Disability and Development: Key to empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities, 27 June 2011, 1.15 to 2.30 p.m., Conference Room 6, UN Headquarters, New York


Currently, there are approximately 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world, or 15 per cent of the global population according to the World Disability Report released on 9 June 2011. In both developed and developing countries, evidence suggests that persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the world’s poor and tend to be poorer than persons without disabilities. The exclusion, both economic and social, is a part of the daily lives of persons with disabilities and is a breach of human rights, as well as a major development challenge. The rich diversity of our society, inclusive of all its members – including persons with disabilities – will help strengthen fundamental human rights and contribute to development for all.

The United Nations is committed to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights for all, which includes persons with disabilities. It has a long history of promoting these rights in all areas, and on an equal basis, in order to achieve a society for all. The work of the United Nations for persons with disabilities is now supported by a legally binding document, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which entered into force on 3 May 2008. The Convention prepares the way to further empower persons with disabilities to better their lives and that of their communities around the world. Furthermore, the General Assembly adopted a series of resolutions in particular 63/150, 64/131 and 65/186, which reiterates the need to include disability in the international development framework, such as the Millennium Development Goal processes and other internationally agreed development goals.

Sport as a catalyst for inclusion of persons with disabilities in society

The universal popularity of sport and the physical, social and economic developmental benefits derived from it, make it an ideal tool for fostering the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities.  Sport works to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with disability because it transforms community attitudes about persons with disabilities by highlighting their skills and reducing the tendency to see the disability instead of the abilities of a person.  Through sport, persons without disabilities can interact with persons with disabilities in a positive context and thus allow them to reshape assumptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do.  Moreover, sport’s unique ability to transcend linguistic, cultural and social barriers makes it an excellent platform for strategies of inclusion and adaptation.    

Sport has the power to change the lives of persons with disability in an equally profound way, by empowering them to realize their full potential and advocate for change in society. Through sport, persons with disabilities acquire vital social skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change. Sport teaches individuals how to communicate effectively and highlights the significance of teamwork, cooperation and respect for others.  Sport is also well-suited to reducing dependence and developing greater independence by helping persons with disabilities become physically and mentally stronger. These skills can be transferred into other arenas including employment and advocacy work to further self-sufficiency.        

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first legally binding international instrument to address the rights of persons with disabilities and sport. Article 30 (5) of the Convention addresses both mainstream and disability-specific sport and stipulates that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels”. It also requires that Governments ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sport and recreational venues — as spectators and as active participants.  This also requires that children with disabilities be included in physical education within the school system “to the fullest extent possible” and enjoy equal access to “play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities”.

Interactive Panel Discussion

An interactive panel discussion held at UN Headquarters would help draw greater attention to the role of sport as a platform and catalyst for fostering the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities in society and development.  Expert panelists will highlight the importance of sport in presenting disability issues in a manner that could dispel negative and archetypal stereotypes while promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.  Furthermore, the panel will also discuss the importance of supporting the work of the United Nations to build a peaceful and inclusive society for all.

With the historic opportunity that the Convention brings, the panel will also discuss utilizing sport to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as use sport as a catalyst for implementing the Convention.  In addition, the panel will also assist in the promotion of inclusive and accessible development for persons with disabilities, particularly through raising public awareness, removing barriers, empowering and ensuring equal opportunities for persons with disabilities for their full and effective participation in society and development.

Panelists will include experts on disability and sport from Governments, UN agencies, and civil society organizations, including organizations of persons with disabilities who will interact and discuss issues and options with the audience.

Opening and welcome:

Statements will be made by Ms. Daniela Bas, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development and Mr. Matthew Sapolin, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, New York City


Ms. Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


  • Dr. Eduardo Obregón Mondragón, Technical Secretary of the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sport, Mexico
  • Mr. Joao Qunitaes, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN
  • Mr. Richard Traum, Achilles Foundation International
  • Mr. Eric Dienes, Office of the UN Special Adviser on Sports for Development and Peace
  • Mr. Joseph Walsh, United States Olympic Committee
  • Ms. Ann Cody, International Paralympic Committee


The event will be sponsored by Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations, Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in collaboration with Achilles Foundation International.