Paralympics: Ukraine’s athletes count cost of conflict

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Ukraine’s Paralympics athletes are feeling the strain of the conflict back home as they struggle to meet previoulst set standards at Qatar World Championships. A voiced AFPTV report.

Paralympics: Ukraine’s athletes count cost of conflict

Paralympics: Ukraine’s athletes count cost of conflict

Doha (Qatar)

– 27 October 2015 13:42

– AFP (David HARDING, Olya Morvan)

Almost a week into the IPC 2015 World Championships in Qatar and the Ukrainian team sits 12th in the medal table with a dozen medals, two of them gold.

It is a creditable performance in a high-quality competition which saw more than 20 world records broken in the first four days.

But it contrasts poorly with Ukraine’s recent paralympic record.

At the last world championships two years ago in France, Ukraine won 11 golds. And at the London 2012 Summer Paralympic games, Ukraine won 32 golds, a figure well beyond reach for now.

In both competitions, Ukraine finished fourth in the medal table, confirmation of its status as a Paralympics superpower.

“We call ourselves the ‘Paralympic Factory’,” says Victor Lys, Ukraine’s head coach.

Now though, Ukraine’s immediate expectations have been lowered not least, say officials, because of events well away from the track.

The ongoing military conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country has had a profound impact on Ukraine’s sporting ambitions.

Government funding for the Paralympics team has been squeezed as resources once meant for athletics are directed to the fighting.

One consequence is that Ukraine picked a smaller team for Doha than they took to Lyon in 2013.

“The government provides most of the funding,” Lys told AFP.

“Due to the war our budget was cut. We couldn’t have as many pre-tournament training camps as we would have liked.

“It was a tough selection. Only potential winners, or extremely talented young athletes, could join the team. We still managed to bring 31 athletes, which is only seven less than for the last World Championships in France.”

He adds: “The war has affected every aspect of our life.”

Government funding helped Ukraine achieve tremendous results in a relatively short time.

In 1996 at the Paralympics in Atlanta, the team left with just one gold and finished 44th in the medal table.

Four years later in Sydney Ukraine finished with a haul of 37 medals, causing government officials in Kiev to sit up and take notice at what the country’s para-athletes could achieve.

This was especially notable in a society traditionally seen as hostile to its disabled population.

State funding then helped push the country’s performance over the next few years towards the heights of London and Lyon.

– The ‘best’ base –

But the conflict has affected the preparation of Ukraine’s team beyond mere finances.

A curious sidenote of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 is that Moscow got its hands on Ukraine’s best Paralympics training base, Yevpatoria, on the peninsula’s west coast.

The large state-of-the-art performance centre was built in 2002 on the site of a former Soviet youth camp on the Black Sea coast.

Among its facilities, which won plaudits around the world, are five swimming pools, a gym and a running track.

“With the annexation of Crimea, we lost our best training base in Yevpatoria,” adds Lys.

“It was the best in Europe, especially equipped for para-athletes.

“Despite promises to let the Ukrainian Paralympic team use the base, financially and technically it is impossible. We lost our best equipment and gear.”

Olga Shostak, track coach, speaking as the Ukrainian athletes train in Qatar, also laments the loss of Yevpatoria.

“We lost the best Paralympic base. We just can’t afford to pay Russia to use our own base,” she says, before adding: “I don’t want to talk about politics.”

As a replacement, the Ukrainians used a centre in Yavoriv, in the Carpathian Mountains, more suitable for winter sports.

There may yet be one further legacy from the conflict. In May 2015, the first soldiers from the fighting arrived at the new Paralympic base, which is helping in their rehabilitation.

“It’s going to be a long process,” says Lys. “First of all we have to involve and to motivate them, show them that life is not over.

“Sport is the key to rehabilitation. Sport is the key to a new life.”

UN figures published in September showed more than 17,800 people had been injured in the conflict.

Lys admits the current problems facing the Ukranian team were “not easy”, but remains optimistic.

“It’s going to be alright,” he smiles.

dh/as

Tags : Conflict, Cost, Count, Athletes, Ukraines, Paralympics

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