Cultural Vistas is always excited to see the work our alumni do to foster an understanding of diversity and inclusion in their communities. Olga Khokhryakova, a 2020 Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program alumna, has been promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in sports since 2017 when she co-founded SameSport.ru, an online database of inclusive and adaptive sports clubs and events in Moscow.
As a Fulbright Scholar from Russia, Olga completed her MS in Community Health Promotion at the University of Arkansas and her Muskie internship with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Peace, Sport, and Society. She has used her U.S. experience to expand SameSport’s geographic scope and recently launched SameSport.Arkansas. SameSport.Arkansas includes an online database, as well as a virtual newsfeed about local sports clubs, activities, and athletes.
We caught up with Olga to talk about SameSport’s work and the importance of inclusive and adaptive sports.
Tell us about what inspired you to start SameSport and some of the work the organization has done in Russia before opening the new chapter in Arkansas.
I have always been a big fan of sports, and a curious person, so when the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Russia in 2014, I could not resist visiting. When I made this decision, it was already too late to try to get to the Olympics; however, it was still possible to obtain tickets for the Paralympics. While attending the Paralympics I learned about sledge hockey, curling, skiing for blind people, and other adaptive sports for people with disabilities. By this time, I had been working as a journalist for quite a while, but this experience made me realize how underrepresented adaptive sports were and how much stigma people with disabilities face.
When I returned to Moscow, I started researching different adaptive sports clubs around the city and realized that there are quite a lot of them; however, it was not easy to find information about them. If it was hard for me to find these opportunities as a journalist, then how realistic was it for potential clients to find them?
I started thinking about solutions to this information gap. In 2017, SameSport.ru was born as a one-stop, online directory of sports and activities for people with disabilities in Moscow. The initial goal was to increase the presence of adaptive sports in the market and to make them more visible and accessible. I also wanted more people without disabilities to become aware of adaptive sports and thus change their perception of disabilities.
Today we have more than 100 adaptive and inclusive sports opportunities in Moscow listed in our directory. We are currently looking for impactful ways to scale the initiative to other regions of Russia and to increase SameSport’s sustainability. SameSport does not have revenue streams and has always been supported by its founders and volunteers. This limits us in some ways, so we hope to find a way to make it sustainable and replicable in any country.
Why do you think sports inclusivity is important?
Dr. Sarah Hillyer from my Muskie Internship host company, the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society said, “sports are a universal language and have enormous power that can be used for good or bad.” The ability to enhance social inclusion is one of the positive superpowers that sports have and that we are utilizing. Sports are one of the best ways to reduce stigma towards people with disabilities. There is extensive research on the topic showing that adaptive sports have a positive impact on both people with disabilities who participate and on those without disabilities who attend adaptive sporting events as well. Additionally, UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity, and Sport identifies access to sports as a fundamental right. Lack of access is a violation of this right.
What is your vision for SameSport.Arkansas and how do you plan to work towards it?
The more people with disabilities engage in sports and similar activities, the closer we are to our goal of enhancing social inclusion through sports. Thus, we are planning to work with local organizations in our network to help them to attract more clients. Creating a directory of local adaptive sports clubs is just the first step. We plan on organizing special events and programs to spread the word about opportunities that locals have, and we will promote this work with storytelling as well.
What advice do you have for those looking to get involved with an adaptive sporting community or looking to potentially start their own SameSport chapter?
Just take the first step, even if it feels like you’re not ready, whether it’s enrolling in a new club or creating your own initiative. The perfect time never comes, and it is important just to act, then learn, and act again with new experience and knowledge. For those who are looking to start a SameSport chapter, we would be happy to get in touch and share our experience. I would be happy to connect with anyone who loves sports and believes in its power to unite people!