Xian Li thought he was going to teach football to children when he signed up as a volunteer for Special Olympics Singapore.
Instead, he became part of a team that competed at Play Inclusive, an annual sporting competition. His capacity as a volunteer is as a “unified volunteer”, in which he plays sports together with those who have intellectual disabilities.
In doing so, Special Olympics Singapore hopes to bring people together through the shared experience of sport – fostering a spirit of understanding for one another.
The competition features 5 sporting events: badminton, basketball, floorball, football, and goalball.
Xian Li’s team managed to clinch the first runner-up spot in football.
One of the intellectually disabled teammates Xian Li had was Fhairul.
Fhairul is one of his teammates, and outside of football, Fhairul undergoes a work attachment programme with Swensens.
Xian Li understands that it was extremely unlikely to befriend Fhairul if he did not volunteer:
Sometimes in society, there’s an assumption that people with intellectual disabilities are inferior. But when we play football, we are actually on the same level. In fact, Fhairul scored two goals for the team!
Indeed, sports certainly did bring Xian Li and Fhairul closer as it highlighted their similarities.
Via sport, both Xian Li and Fhairul had much to learn in terms of being a team player.
Xian Li himself, found that he had much to improve on due to his hot-headed nature. Through understanding his teammates, he better understands that it is essential to manage his temper.
The Programme teaches all of us to be patient.
As for Fhairul, he has greatly developed his self-esteem through weekly interaction with his teammates and with the sport. He has also learnt to become more adaptable an individual. And like Xian Li, he has learnt to be patient whilst dealing with stressful situations such as being tackled by an opponent.
Focusing on play
Fhairul reflects upon his experience as a teammate:
It doesn’t matter if I’m first or second, as long as I did my best during the match.
Their coach teases them that they would want to play yet another match if they could, and they look forward to the chance to have friendly matches with their opponents.
Regardless of one’s background, sports provides an opportunity to celebrate the gift of play. All in good fun, Xian Li and Fhairul have cultivated a wonderful friendship through play.