Call to end albinism stigma in sport

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BREAKING THE BARRIER . . . Laina Sithole is one of the few athletes with albinism who have done exceptionally well in sport, representing the country at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil

BREAKING THE BARRIER . . . Laina Sithole is one of the few athletes with albinism who have done exceptionally well in sport, representing the country at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil

Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
WHILE talent is an in-born thing and we have seen people pursuing their talents in various fields including sport, for most people with albinism, there are certain challenges varying from physical to social that continue to limit their participation.

This has resulted in just a few trying their hand in sport.

In 2016, one of Zimbabwe’s athletes with albinism – Laina Sithole – made it to the Paralympic Games in Brazil when she qualified through a Bipartite Invitation and she competed in 100m event T13.

She had earlier in 2015 taken part in the African Games in Congo Brazzaville, where she represented Zimbabwe in athletics’ visually impaired category and attained a B qualification time, which enabled her to be considered for the Bipartite Invitation.

In 2014, she won a gold medal at the Region Five Games held in Bulawayo.

She had won a gold medal in the same competition in 2012, then known as the Zone Six Games and last year she took bronze at the African Games.

She is one of the best athletes to have come through in the past few years.

And for some, this raises some questions why we have not seen many people with albinism participating in sport?

Zimbabwe Albino Association (ZIMAS) director Mercy Maunganidze-Chimanga took time to highlight some of the challenges that people with albinism face.

On top of the list is the physical challenges mainly to do with their skin as exposure to the sun for too long causes sun burns.

“People with albinism lack melanin, which is the pigment that protects from sun rays, which causes sun burns, which if continuously acquired, might graduate into skin cancer. It also affects their eyes, making their sight poorer and level of sight differs in individuals.

“Most sports we have or that we know are outdoor sports. So because of our condition, we cannot participate in such activities. Even if one has passion, but because of my condition, if I am burnt by the sun, I won’t come back, that’s why you don’t see many people with albinism taking part in sport.

“Take for example, soccer, it’s (played for) 90 minutes on the pitch and in the sun except maybe if it’s being played in the evening. But how many times have we seen soccer being played in the evening here in Zimbabwe?

“If I try athletics, still it’s an outdoor sport. So the environment is not conducive in terms of the skin as well as poor eyesight. Sport is an in-born talent, you are born with it, but as I said, the issue of sensitive skin and eyesight, that’s our challenge,” said Maunganidze-Chimanga.

Apart from the physical challenges, there are social challenges that continue to haunt people with albinism.

Although as a country some strides have been made to try and address such challenges as discrimination, there are still some gaps that need to be addressed.

“People tend to be afraid of what they do not understand. In certain societies, it is difficult to make friends or even be included in the team because at a young age, children are afraid of the appearance of people with albinism and at older ages, myths and misconceptions kick-in.

“Social challenges could affect people with albinism in their physical abilities.

“For instance, playing soccer requires teamwork, if teammates cannot accept one, it means the team cannot effectively play and win.

“In sports like swimming, other swimmers (may) refuse to get into the same water or pool with someone who has albinism and it could be both belittling and can further cause withdrawal.

“Psychological challenges may result in one thinking people do not like him, or that they are not good enough,” said Maunganidze-Chimanga.

ZIMAS youth coordinator Patience Muronzi weighed in to make an appeal for the society to be more accommodating.

“We just need people to be more accommodating because sports like swimming can be done indoors. But there is an issue of discrimination, other kids may refuse to use the same water with someone with albinism.

“Albinism is not contagious, it’s not something that you can get because you have used the same water with someone with albinism. If people don’t accept you, then you are excluded,” said Muronzi.

“What must be put to book is that a lot needs to be done in the sporting fraternity to accommodate people with albinism for them to take an active role in different sporting disciplines and a whole new dimension should be taken in regards to teaching people on how to relate with people with albinism to phase out the issue of discrimination,” one person with albinism said.