Abilympics in Moscow – joy and hard work

Dozens of colorful flags, shirts, sweaters and caps swayed during the opening ceremony of Russian Abilympics in Moscow on November 20th, 2019. According to the organizers, there were about 1,300 participants from all 85 administrative regions in Russia. The participants in the fifth national vocational competition seemed to enjoy both the competition and the camaraderie.

We took part in the event as invited guests. The reason of our visit is that Russia has expressed its interest in organising the international Abilympics competition in May 2021. The official application has been submitted. However, we were interested in Russia's know-how and potential cooperation in the arrangements for the Abilympics2021 competition.

The main location of the competition was the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (VDNKh) in Moscow. Abilympics2021 will be held at the same venue. Next to the competition is the massive Cosmos hotel, where the Abilympics2021 competitors are scheduled to be housed. The halls of the exhibition centre are in the middle of a large park-like area and you arrive at the venue both smoothly and cheaply with the metro.

The overall impression of the competition area is very similar to what you get at the National Taitaja Competition or at the last Abilympics competition in Bordeaux, France. The events range from crocheting to machinery and from social work to sculpting vegetables. It largely equals the event range at the international Abilympics competitions. The events had been divided into different halls according to the theme.

Each event area had display boards, and the judges closely monitored the performance. Visibility could have been better at some events, but it is always challenging to take advantage of a venue perfectly. The competitors and officials seemed very happy and relaxed. The representatives from various different parts of Russia were in matching articles of clothing and were clearly proud to represent their own region.

The competition days also included several discussion and seminar sessions. Their subjects included the education for people with disabilities and the working life community. The competition venue also had around ten exhibition stands. You got to play with service dogs and a couple of private companies marketed electronic aids and several organizations presented their operations. Russia's WorldSkills organization representatives were also present.

It is also noteworthy that Moscow’s employment service reserved a large, about 100 square meter area in the middle of the competition hall. They helped people make a job application including a photograph or participate in the information sessions that were organised. In addition, the employment service's premises had at least one private stand for a construction company that recruited workers. At least their administration spoke English, and we exchanged information, so we will see where it leads...

We walked around the venue for two days, we looked, and we asked. Communication suffered from neither of us speaking Russian. There was very little spoken in other languages. At international competitions, a common language is extremely important, especially for refereeing. The language issues also led to us not receiving as much information as we wanted regarding the level of disabilities the competitors had. It's not always possible to determine right away. But the impression we got was that many competitors did not require all that much support.

On the third day we met the Head of Competitions Dina Makeva and Vice-Rector Albina Bikbulatov, for the university (Moscow State Social University) that coordinates the Abilympics2021 competition. We presented on Skills Finland’s and the AMEO-network's parts our offer of cooperation. The Russians seemed positively minded to the idea.

At the meeting we also covered themes for the excursion to Finland, which our hosts already agreed to do after the competition. The hosts for the excursion will be Kiipulan Ammattiopisto and the aim is for the Russians to familiarise themselves with Finnish vocational training and competition activities in connection with special education. Cooperation opportunities should also be fleshed out during the visit.

In any case, cooperation continues. The International Abilympics Federation (IAF) will make a positive decision on Russia's hosting, after the somewhat complicated bureaucracy has been sorted out. After the official decision has been made, the national preparations begin in Finland. The goal is of course to put together a good team that travels to Moscow in May 2021.

Petteri Ora is the development leader for the Kiipulasäätiö and a board member of Skills Finland. Matti Kauppinen acts as Head of Education at Ammattiopisto Luovi and is Skills Finland's Abilympics coordinator.

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    The competition venue, the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy

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    The event in applied exercise

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    From the left: Matti Kauppinen, Abilympics Head of Competitions Dina Makeeva, Moscow State Social University Vice-Rector Albina Bikbulatova and Petteri Ora.

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    Sharp refereeing in the Health and Social Care event.

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    A leisure-area sponsored by IKEA.

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    Vegetable sculpting requires patience