By Young Lee and Alejandro Barron
The Mexican constitution guarantees access to physical activity and sports for all people, but adaptive sports have been historically underfunded. Nevertheless, Mexico has consistently outperformed expectations at the Summer Paralympics, ranking 20th on the all-time gold medal count, higher than any other Latin American nation.
Since 2015, the U.S. Mission to Mexico has zeroed in on this potential, creating and implementing training programs for seven different adaptive sports, including powerlifting, surfing, and wheelchair fencing. Embassy Mexico City has partnered with the NBA to promote wheelchair basketball, trained Special Olympics coaches and administrators across 20 different states, and participated in Department of State-sponsored exchanges for athletes and professionals in adaptive sports.
These exchange programs have had a significant impact on the participants’ professional development. Among the notable success stories are Erik Perez and Yoalli Hernandez, the current coaches for the Mexican para-cycling and para-swimming teams, respectively. They are coaching the teams that are competing in the Tokyo Paralympics this year. Other U.S. exchange alumni have decided to focus their efforts at the grassroots level. The young and driven sister-brother duo of Ashanti and Emiliano Ramirez, for example, opened an office for adaptive sports, the first of its kind at the municipal level in Mexico. This office now provides 408 athletes with disabilities access to facilities where they practice 13 different sports.
The U.S. government’s initiatives have supported significant growth in the adaptive sports industry in Mexico. However, there is still a long way to go. Mission Mexico’s role will be critical in the years ahead. They secure commitments and partnerships from the Mexican government, businesses, and civil society to achieve full inclusion and sustainability for adaptive sports athletes, coaches, and professionals.
Young Lee is a deputy cultural affairs officer, and Alejandro Barron is a sports diplomacy specialist in the public affairs section at Embassy Mexico City.