Impact stories- The Importance of the Coach and the Media in Dispelling the Stigma of Being a Disabled Athlete

Global Disability Innovation Hub, Jennie Wong, Loughborough University
June 12, 2023

The image shows Tahiru Haruna on Max TV Live talking about the importance of positive thinking and opportunities for persons with a disability.

Photo description: The image shows Tahiru Haruna on Max TV Live talking about the importance of positive thinking and opportunities for persons with a disability.

Ghanaian athlete Tahiru Haruna, 29, from the Greater Accra area has won multiple medals in Para Power Lifting (107kg+) and Arm Wrestling for Ghana since he became an athlete in 2017. His next aim is to add Ghana’s first ever Paralympic Gold medal to his haul at the Paris Paralympic Games 2024 and showcase to other people with disabilities that it is possible to achieve a sporting dream.

Tahiru’s sporting success has seen him travel to many other countries around the world for competition. This access to new cultures, sporting infrastructures and systems has provided him with some valuable experiences on how disability is perceived and managed within his own country.

As with many people with a disability, Tahiru has faced discrimination and was treated as ‘different’ from other people. This stigma is not a positive experience and is compounded when he sees how disabled athletes from some of the other countries are treated. Tahiru describes disabled athletes from other countries as being given special treatment, being treated with love and respect – as opposed to fear and discrimination as in Ghana.

A key figure in Tahiru’s life is that of his coach, Prince Morgan. Prince is a former weightlifter and now trains Tahiru and a number of other top Para Powerlifters. Tahiru says that Prince is like a father or a brother to him. In his words “I take him like my family member. Whenever I have a problem, I share it with him and he also does the same when he has a problem, and he will tell me what and what is wrong so that we sit down and bring ideas for the betterment of the sports.”

Tahiru talks about the need to have a coach that is able to understand your disability and work to get the best out of you. He suggests that not all coaches can work with disabled people as they don’t have the empathy or ‘love’ to help them achieve excellence. A coach needs to do so much for a Para athlete – fetch water, carry weights, help with transport, provide physical and mental support, work with specialist equipment, and critically be a staunch advocate for athletes with disabilities. They often do this for little or no pay, day in day out, thriving on the passion to help an athlete with a disability to inspire a nation.

One of the benefits of being a medal winner and at the top of your sport is that you get to interact with media and have a ‘voice’. Tahiru was delighted to get media coverage following his successes so that other people with disabilities will be inspired to take part in sport and have opportunities in their lives to thrive and excel. Sport can provide confidence, independence, the opportunity to travel and meet new people and to experience the world. Bringing these positive experiences back to Ghana through the power of the media will help to reduce the stigma around disability and will help to drive a societal step change for people with disabilities to be able to achieve the extraordinary.

Tahiru also uses the power of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to reach out to his thousands of followers. He posts inspirational pictures, videos and articles to promote himself, Para Powerlifting and the para sport movement in general. Over these networks people feel confident to ask Tahiru questions about sport, his disability and how to get involved.

Along with the gold medal from the Paralympic Games, Tahiru would like to see there be more opportunity for disabled women to take part in sport. He has aspirations to work through the highest levels in sport to influence the solidarity across the nations and ensure that those athletes in countries such as Ghana are given support, structure and opportunity to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Tahiru wants the stigma against persons with disabilities to become nothing through the power of sport.