The challenge of the Canadian title is serious, but we can still feel the good-natured atmosphere that reigns there and the pleasure of the athletes and their entourage to meet in tournaments.
The competition takes place during the Défi sportif AlterGo, the largest event in Canada bringing together athletes with functional limitations, which takes place in Montreal until May 1st.
After two years in virtual mode, it is also a return to face-to-face for the Défi sportif. Despite the ambient happiness, we cannot yet speak of
back to normal because there are still sanitary measures which complicate the organization, but also because we note a certain sporting dropout.
In 2019, the last year the Défi sportif AlterGo took place face-to-face, more than 8,000 para-athletes took part. This year, it’s half as much. About 4,000 participants came to the competitions in Montreal and Longueuil.
Jérémie Brisebois, event director at Défi sportif AlterGo, puts these figures into perspective.
We had no idea what the answer would be, she told Radio-Canada Sports. We are really happy to have people and happy to have different events. We still have seven types of competitions and it’s not bad in our averages. We made choices too. By having competitions in schools, we expected to have fewer people in person. We are happy with our 4000. We can’t wait to get back to 8000. But for a comeback, it’s good to go with a little less.
The Défi sportif AlterGo is representative of participation in parasports in general. Team sports, such as rugby and wheelchair basketball or soccer power chairare particularly affected by the dropout from sport, which has accelerated over the past two years.
About a third of para-athletes have not renewed their club membership since the start of the pandemic, according to Anne-Renée Thibault, general manager of Parasports Québec.
The reasons for this slow return to the practice of parasports are the same as for other sports.
Access to establishments was complicated, recalls Anne-Renée Thibault. After a while, when you haven’t practiced your sport, it gets out of your routine. In some sports, it was necessary to be more vigilant since the clientele is even more vulnerable. Wait times and precautions have been amplified. It puts more emphasis on stopping.
However, it should be noted that several athletes returned with great enthusiasm. This is the case of Lionel Tamoki, a 19-year-old wheelchair basketball player.
Some of his teammates are not back, but there was no question of him giving up his passion.
I was sitting in my office chair and just waiting for the email that said, “We’re back to practice”he said.
His goal is to make the Canadian team. He was also invited to the selection camp.
He acknowledges that the pandemic has probably lost him a year or two.
” At the start of COVID, we were supposed to have a tournament with Team Quebec, but it was cancelled. The new players, we didn’t have time to prove ourselves, we couldn’t be invited to the selection camp precisely because they had nothing to base ourselves on. If I had gone to that tournament, I could have had a chance to make Team Canada earlier. »
Training and tournaments have resumed over the past few months and are going at a crazy pace. Lionel Tamoki isn’t going to complain about it, but laughingly admits being a bit lost in his schedule.
In March, there wasn’t a weekend where I didn’t have tournaments or training camps, I couldn’t work for five weeks. I had like: tournament, tournament, training camp, tournament, but I’m not complaining.
The problem is not only a question of dropping out, but also of new memberships.
In any sport, there are always people who come out naturally, says the general manager of Parasports Quebec. But normally, there are people who come in too.
The lack of new players is particularly acute in wheelchair basketball.
I am thinking of mini-basketball, at 18 you no longer play mini, you move to a higher category, adds the general manager. Young people have continued to age despite the pandemic, but no one has entered the system. We see that the teams have really decreased.
The stakes are high since wheelchair basketball could be withdrawn from the Quebec Games if the pool of players under 18 is not large enough to form the required number of teams.
We are looking for a way to overcome this, because the stakes are highadmits Ms. Thibault.
” We really don’t want to be excluded from the Quebec Games, because young people who are eligible, they want to go. »
In solution mode
Recruiting new para-athletes has been difficult over the past two years. It is often necessary to personalize the approach according to the person’s functional limitation.
With the Beyond the Limits program, we go to rehabilitation centers, says Anne-Renée Thibault. When someone has a new condition, I think it’s important to know quickly that there is a great service offer (in parasports). It’s not perfect, but there are possibilities. And that’s one of the things that’s the most unfortunate, it’s that we couldn’t go to people to give them hope or a new goal.
Lionel Tamoki’s first contact with wheelchair basketball came about through a chance encounter.
I have always been a fan of basket ball. In secondary 1, I came back from my lessons with my ball and I dribbled in the street and, suddenly, there is Marc Antoine Ducharme, who is the coach of the Canadian women’s team, and who saw me and who said to me: “I work in the field and would you be interested in coming to play?
It is finally two years later that he will learn wheelchair basketball after realizing that his handicap would not allow him to be part of the standing basketball team of his school. The coach had contact with parasport and that was the spark plug.
I immediately hooked and I expected it, he recalls. I knew I was going to like it, it’s basketball! And I have the opportunity to become strong.
Failing to be able to demonstrate in rehabilitation centers during the pandemic, Parasports Quebec had to find other solutions. She turned to health professionals by training them and informing them about parasports so that they become their transmission belt.
An initiative that is paying off.
We opened doors to centers that did not really know us, recognizes the general manager. We will be able to meet more people in more regions.
Both at Parasports Québec and at Défi sportif AlterGo, there is no question of setting an objective to return to the participation figures for 2019. The leaders are rather going from day to day since the pandemic is not over, just like the unpredictability that comes with it.
However, the reflection is well underway. One of the solutions: offer more activities during the summer period, when there is often a lull in COVID-19.
Historically, our sports are winter or indoor sports. We try to work on itemphasizes Anne-Renée Thibault.
” For example, in mini basketball, we are considering an annual end-of-summer championship. A kind of Quebec Cup to bring young people together. And we will try to offer it outside or to play three against three. You have to be creative and don’t get discouraged and just wait to do what you were doing before. »
The situation can give rise to interesting initiatives. The lack of players in a level is forcing teams to come together, like during the last Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Championships which took place in mid-April in Montreal, where Manitoba and New Brunswick joined forces.
There is a good bond between the regions and the provinces, because they want to play. In a normal year, it wouldn’t have happened.launches with a smirk Anne-Renée Thibault.
After two years in virtual mode, Lionel Tamoki is happy to participate again in the Défi sportif AlterGo, a tournament he loves.
The AlterGo Challenge has more of a fun, festive side. Everybody is here. You’re going to play against teams you’ve never played against, or you’re going to play with people you’ve never played with in your team, it’s a change.
The organizers of the Défi sportif and Parasports Québec therefore have the mission over the coming months to attract new para-athletes.
They can, however, count on enthusiasts like Lionel Tamoki who do not want to be defeated by COVID.
” Sometimes, I say to myself: “If I had had more practice, I would be better, I would not have missed such a shot. I will be better in defense.” But I tell myself that I can’t give up if I want to accomplish what I told myself that I wanted to accomplish. I can moan for 30 seconds, but life goes on and I have no choice but to move forward in life. »