Play for Change has a mission of promoting unity and positive values through sport. On International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP2017), we are proud to announce Anne Wafula Strike MBE, Paralympian and GB athlete, winner of the 2016 Play for Change Award and an outstanding charity giver, as our new Ambassador.
Play for Change caught up with Anne about the significance of sport in her life and the importance of celebrating IDSDP2017.
Being the first Sub-Saharan African wheel chair racer and competing at your level took a vast amount of dedication and commitment, what motivates you?
Many athletes have a dream to play sport to a higher level. But for me, the motivation isn’t about winning medals or coming first place. The motivation comes down to the wonderful feeling of just participating in sport. Being disabled, it felt like the world had put me in a box and told me ‘you are different’, but having the opportunity to compete in the Paralympic Games represented that I was important and equal to other people.
Whenever I am at a race and on the start line, I never take it for granted because when I grew up in Kenya there were no opportunities for me to play sport. But playing sport makes me feel alive.
Why is this important to you?
I used to feel like I wasn’t meant to be here- when I was growing up in Africa, people wanted me to be killed because they thought my disability was a curse and would spread to the village. I was rejected from my community and we were made to flee from the village.
Even though this made me appreciate life at a very young age, it took me a long time to accept myself. It was later in life through sport that I started to love myself; I then started to realise ‘I am me! I am Anne Wafula Strike the original and now I can enjoy life to the full.’
Why is IDSDP is an important day to celebrate?
This day is very important, this is how we bring everyone together!
Irrespective of colour, gender, creed, background and ability, sport is the language that everyone can speak and this is the day where we should all be speaking that language. Sport has a very positive energy around the world and that needs celebrating.
How do you think sports has contributed so far to development and peace around the world?
Sport is a tool that has broken barriers and when people come together to play, it creates an interconnectivity with people.
I know of examples in Kenya where there have been tribal clashes and the community leaders brought different communities together to play sport; the people payed together, ran together and at the end shook hands; this was a huge sign of peace.
On a global level, I recall the first Muslim girl racing internationally – she was running with a head scarf, which was so rare at the time. Her participation broke down stereotypes, people were cheering and this made the headlines. This brought her tradition and religion to the world stage, but showed that she is no different, nor should be treated differently.
How do you think we can still improve this message?
Sport has got a long way to go. It has so much power and potential. I would like to see us helping more marginalised groups by bringing them new technology and equipment to be able to properly enjoy sport. We need to provide more opportunities for youth to compete as well, I remember a Kenyan boy who used to run 100 metres barefoot in nearly 9 seconds, nobody knew who he was but he went to the nationals, and somebody stepped on his foot so he couldn’t compete. When you lack the exposure and the tools, then your dream will only ever be half achieved.
How do you think sports can promote peace and bring people together?
If we make sport available for deprived, vulnerable and marginalized groups, then we can bring to them the benefits and lessons that sport provides, such as healthy living, confidence building and self-esteem. Everyone should be able to participate but sometimes they just need the structure and the tools to help make it happen.
What does it mean to be a Play for Change Ambassador?
Being an Ambassador means I can look forward to helping to create more opportunities for young people and their communities.
When I was growing up in Kenya, I never played sport because no one knew what to do with me. If charities like Play for Change were around, then I could have had that opportunity and not suffered all the stigmas and barriers. The 6 yr old Anne couldn’t play sport which meant I couldn’t play with friends and I couldn’t forget how different I felt.
Play for Change is enabling so many vulnerable children the opportunity to play in safe environments. It takes a whole community effort, and I love this approach as everyone understands what they are trying to achieve.
As a Play for Change Ambassador what message would you leave for all Governmental Organisations today?
Sport needs to be on the agenda of every country, because it is cost effective, transforms lives, provides opportunities and breaks down barriers.
Kenya native Anne Wafula Strike was born healthy but contracted Polio at age two and a half. The condition rendered her paralyzed. Anne discovered wheelchair racing and competed in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens for her home country of Kenya. She participated as a torchbearer for the 2012 Games in London. Anne represented Team GB from 2006. Today Anne is keen to get involved in extreme sports, being the first Paralympian to participate in the notorious Tough Mudder obstacle challenge in Europe.
Anne is one of 5 inspirational Ambassadors for Play for Change, she will support the charity with new programmes, spreading messages of sport for social good, and driving forward Play for Change initiatives. Click here to read the announcement of Anne as Ambassador for Play for Change.