Rania Rahardja: Pioneering wheelchair fencing in Singapore through YCM+
After competing in fencing at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore in 2010, Rania Rahardja was Singapore’s Young Change-Maker (YCM) at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018. She is now aiming to inspire Singaporeans with a disability to fence as part of the IOC’s YCM+ Programme.
What was it like to be involved in the first-ever YOG?
“I qualified for the YOG only two years after taking up the sport and after just one year of competitive fencing, so 2010 was a fantastic but sometimes overwhelming experience. It was only after the Games that I truly understood what being part of the YOG meant. It gave me the confidence and motivation to continue fencing. Being chosen as one of the six YOG flagbearers for the Opening Ceremony is a moment I won’t forget.. It was nerve-racking but luckily it went smoothly and I still keep in touch with the other flagbearers.”
Tell us about your return to the Olympic family as a YCM in Buenos Aires.
“It was a different experience because there was no pressure of competing and I could fully immerse myself in the activities on offer. I attended the Olympism in Action Forum, where I learned about legacy, sustainability and human rights, and gained a greater understanding of the planning required to stage the Games. I was inspired meeting the other YCMs from all over the world with our unique backgrounds and diverse experiences. We had a lot of fun exploring the Youth Olympic Village and the city.”
What was your highlight?
“Visiting a favela with IOC President Thomas Bach, seeing the positive impact of sports on a local level, was incredible. I also met Professor Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work helping disadvantaged entrepreneurs, who spoke about sports and social businesses.”
As an able-bodied athlete, what inspired you to focus your YCM+ project on wheelchair fencing?
“I wanted to spread my passion for fencing to as many people as possible. I was inspired by witnessing wheelchair and able-bodied athletes train together at my fencing club in London. I realised athletes with disabilities in Singapore needed more opportunity to fence.”
What are your ambitions for the project?
“I hope to be able to build a core group of participants to keep the project sustainable instead of simply organising “ad hoc” workshops or events. The long-term goal is to identify and nurture an athlete who could potentially compete at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.”
What progress have you made so far?
“In the last six months, we [Wheelchair Fencing Singapore] have been involved in three separate events – an Inclusive Sports Festival in August 2018, the ‘Let’s Play!’ event in Marina Bay in January this year, and a wheelchair fencing workshop in February that was attended by Hong Kong fencer Yu Chui Yee, a seven-time Paralympic gold medallist. There were on average 10-15 young participants with disabilities for each event, although our events are inclusive and also attracted able-bodied participants. The responses from those who took part were very positive and they were eager to start weekly sessions; we are currently in talks with the Singapore Disability Sports Council and Fencing Singapore to make this happen. I really hope the project can continue over time. The National Paralympic Council of Malaysia are keen to invite us to train with their squad and this is something we will definitely explore once we get the regular sessions up and running.”
Tell us about Panasonic’s involvement in your initiative.
“Panasonic is the sponsor for the YCM+ programme and, along with the IOC, they co-fund the grants for the individual projects to the sum of 5,000 Swiss francs to help make our vision a reality. The company invited me to Tokyo twice – first to give a talk in a local school and to film a promotional video for Team Singapore ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and later, in November 2018, to attend the IOC Youth Summit with President Bach.”
What are your own plans for the future?
“I graduated from University College London in 2017 with a BA in Law, and I’m currently working as a graduate analyst for Barclays. My role involves rotating across four different departments before I potentially take up a permanent role with the bank. I see myself in a professional career, although I would love to still be actively involved in sports.”
The YCM+ Programme supported by Panasonic is a social entrepreneurship through sport initiative. YCM applicants can submit a project to the IOC that leverage sport for a better world in their community, and the best projects are allocated a maximum of CHF 5,000 of seed funding. Themes cover Healthy & Active Living, Inclusion, Sustainability, and Peace & Development.