Reflections on Turkmenistan

by Dawna Callahan, Founder & CEO

All In Sport Consulting

On October 18, I returned home from a two-week sport diplomacy trip to Turkmenistan made possible by the U.S. State Department and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership. It was such an honor to serve on the U.S. delegation! Since returning home and having the opportunity to reflect on the experience, I’ve struggled with how to share and summarize a once-in-a-lifetime trip into a short post. I guess a good place to start would be…

First Impressions:

I don’t know if any of the delegation knew what to expect when landing in Ashgabat, the capital city, at 1 a.m. The roads were shining as they were so clean, the buildings were grand, and the landscaping was impeccably manicured. We soon learned about the pride the Turkmen have in keeping their communities clean and orderly. The people were incredibly warm, excited to provide us a glimpse into the Turkmen culture, showcase their country, and also share really delicious meals throughout our 2-week journey.

Passion for Sport:

Turkmen are passionate about sport and proud of their great accomplishments in the sport arena. We had the opportunity to meet with and exchange ideas related to sport for the disabled with leadership from the Ministry of Sports and Youth Policy, the central and regional sport clubs for people with disabilities and the Turkmenistan Paralympic Committee. The leadership was engaged and encouraged by new and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities and we had positive conversations throughout our trip related to adapted sport recruitment, funding, equipment, coaching and volunteers…topics not much different than what adapted sport leaders focus on in the U.S.

Paralympic Sport Day:

The U.S. Embassy, Ministry of Sports and Youth Policy and VCU Center for Sport Leadership organized a Paralympic Sport Day where the regional sport clubs brought a number of their local athletes to the capital city to participate in an afternoon of sport demonstrations and competition. For many, this was the first time they experienced the enhanced mobility of a sport chair. Four hundred students from the Turkmen State Institute of Physical Education and Sports, similar to a university in the U.S., observed the sport showcase that highlighted five adapted sports. These future sport leaders now have a better understanding of the potential, passion and keen skills people with disabilities have along with their desire to continue participating in sport. I appreciate the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan, Ambassador Klimow spending the entire day with us, first in a meeting with the U.S. delegation as well as the entire afternoon trying his hand at wheelchair basketball (see photo below). Ambassador Klimow’s commitment to continue these conversations was evident as he shared a message emphasizing the importance of inclusion and partnership.

Next Steps:

Our hope is that we planted seeds in Turkmenistan in regard to highlighting the potential of people with disabilities through sport. Similar to what we know in the U.S., engaging in sport can lead to increased independence, confidence and improvements in physical and mental health – and this would be no different for those living with a disability in Turkmenistan. My hope is that we’re able to continue conversations with leadership in Turkmenistan to continue improving and expanding sport opportunities for Turkmen with a disability.

Click here to meet the U.S. delegation.

Photos courtesy of Greg Burton.

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