While the Finnish wheelchair racer Amanda Kotaja was preparing for her journey to the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee IPC launched a world-wide WeThe15 campaign to end discrimination towards persons with disabilities. What does equality mean for the paralympic silver medalist Kotaja?
WeThe15 draws attention to 15 percent of the world’s population: persons with disabilities. This group – globally 1.2 billion and in Finland 700.000 people – is too significant to ignore in the political decision making and conversations about society. And yet this part of the population is still rarely getting their voice heard.
Finnish wheelchair racer Amanda Kotaja is one of the 15 percent. In August she became the first Finnish woman to win a paralympic medal in wheelchair racing, when she finished second in the T54 100 m race in Tokyo. For her, equality means possibility for everyone to live their lives without their chances being defined by who or what they are or where they’re from. In sports, Kotaja sees still a lot of variation in how equality actualizes.
– Equality is constantly more and more on the table, but we still have to make sure we are being heard about our rights to be able to do sports for amusement or compete in the events we are interested in, Kotaja says.
As a role model to future para athletes, Kotaja believes sports in general can have a significant role in advancing equality in Finland.
– Sports and movement are a universal field, where the movement in itself is the same for everyone, but every person executes the movement in their own way. Sports and exercise are such a visible and vast part of our everyday lives, and I absolutely believe they can be used to get a lot done in advancing equality.
The athlete who used to be the only child using a wheelchair in school also emphasizes the relevance of having and seeing peers around oneself.
– The sports world was the first place where I got to be around my peers, and only then I realized, how important peers are. How wonderful it is to have someone there who fully comprehends the ways in which you differ from others and has experienced same kinds of things in their life. Still in this day sports represents empowerment for me. I get to show to the world, with other Para Athletes, what we are capable of.
65 % of persons with disability or special needs would like to exercise more and take more interest in sports. Although already 65 % of the Finnish sports clubs organize activities also for people with special needs, there are many kinds of obstacles to overcome in finding a sports activity if you have a disability or special needs. The biggest challenge is to find a suitable sports group or club.
Amanda Kotaja, who has been in the forefront of Finnish wheelchair racing for years now, feels lucky to have been taken into her own sports club with an open mind when she was a child. Next she hopes equality will advance to a point where every institutional actor in the sports field truly considers their possibilities to face and take in different people.
– I believe sports clubs hold the key to advancing equality in Finnish sports. And now is the time to put the words into action.
Amanda Kotaja is a 26-year-old Finnish wheelchair racer on the top of her field. In addition to the paralympic silver she won in T54 100 m race in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in 2021, she has i.e. 3 World Championships and 4 European Championships in the wheelchair racing sprint events under her belt. While still representing her hometown sports club Vampulan Urheilijat, Kotaja resides in Helsinki, and is also a trained sports counselor.
The Finnish Paralympic Committee works to advance equal sports culture. You can now take part in the work by donating to the new Paralympic Fund. One of the important missions of the fund is to create possibilities for disabled children and youth to find their path to sports and an active way of life.
Read more: www.paralympia.fi/in-english