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Clockwise from top left: Rizka Feryani (Special Olympics Indonesia), Ben Haack, (Special Olympics Australia), Adil Visram (Special Olympics Pakistan), Anton Silos (Special Olympics Philippines), Hanako Sawayama (Special Olympics Asia Pacific), Neha Naik (Special Olympics Bharat). Photo credit: Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Shade Photography

Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program (ALP) empowers athletes by letting them choose how to contribute to the Movement. These leadership roles could be in public speaking (as Global Messenger), opinion shaping (Board of Director or Council member) or sports (Coach or Official). Athletes are mentored and trained to carry out their role, ultimately equipping them with the social skills and confidence to succeed beyond competition.

In an exciting development at the April Asia Pacific Regional Leadership Conference in Singapore, several athletes in attendance came together to form the first ALPs Asia Pacific Council. The Council then led a panel discussion about the critical importance of athlete voices in improving and expanding the Movement.

Ben Haack, former athlete from Special Olympics Australia and long-time athlete advocate and public voice of the movement, took the lead in forming the Council. Other athlete members include:  Neha Naik (Special Olympics Bharat), Rizka Feryani (Special Olympics Indonesia), Anton Silos (Special Olympics Philippines), Adil Visram (Special Olympics Pakistan) and Hanako Sawayama (Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Special Olympics Singapore Board).

Ben discusses his involvement with the Council:

Ben (centre with microphone) addresses the Asia Pacific Program Leaders during the conference. Photo credit: Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Shade Photography

Special Olympics Asia Pacific: How did the ALPs Asia Pacific Council start?

Ben Haack: It started as originally an idea to give the ALPs movement a pathway in the region.  Working with the Special Olympics Asia Pacific region office’s Simon Koh and Yee Saensawang, we asked which Asia Pacific countries had a good ALPs movement, and from there we selected a few members for the Program. Each member serves a three year term.

The council gives an avenue for athletes to voice their views on Special Olympics – the athletes leaders are in charge of collecting these opinions. The only way we can find out if we’re running a good program is to ask the athletes. The best way to do this is with ALPs. Because these ALPs athletes understand what it’s like.

How do you see the ALPs Asia Pacific Council progressing?

Globally, the biggest region with ALPs involvement is North America. I can see us expanding, equaling or going further than North America. It would not be inconceivable to have a bigger ALPs involvement, if we get good support.

I would love for it to get to a point where we have ALPs involvement at all levels – state, regional, national, international.

You started out as an athlete. What was the defining moment where you realized you can do more?

I was always encouraged by my Special Olympics program in the Gold Coast to talk about my disability for the past 14 years, not just in Special Olympics, but to teachers and psychologists as well.

The moment where I really became an athlete leader was after Shanghai World Summer Games in 2007.  I stepped up to become a coach in Special Olympics Australia’s football program. From there, I was encouraged to become an athlete leader. Around the same time, our National Program was looking into athlete leadership. That’s when I started the process of being trained.

What else are you involved in back home?

Besides being heavily involved in ALPs, I work at a disability organization, play sports, and help out with local fundraising.

What are you doing for the 2013 Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle?

I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to going as a supporter.

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