The ‘Me, Father and Sports’ picnic—which took place on Father’s Day in Bulgaria—aimed to highlight the role of fathers, particularly fathers of children with intellectual disabilities. These men are often powerful advocates for inclusion and play a special role in supporting their children to achieve their full potential—in sports, and in every aspect of their lives.
Generously hosted by the University Botanical Gardens, Sofia, the event was held as part of the UNICEF’s Parenting Month and Special Olympics’ The Revolution is Inclusion campaign. It was opened by Sanya Saranovich, Deputy Representative of UNICEF in Bulgaria, and Hrabar Natov, President of Special Olympics Bulgaria and father of Special Olympics athlete and World Games medal-winner, Hrabar Natov, Jr.
"My son and I have played tennis together for 30 years"
Mr. Natov spoke of his relationship with Hrabar Jr., underlining the crucial role that a father’s support can play in the life of a Special Olympics athlete. He said, “My son Hrabar and I have played tennis together for approximately 30 years. I believe that it is due to our regular training sessions together that he was able to prepare and play really well at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. He won fourth place in the individual games for men and also ranked fourth with his partner Lilyana Avreyska in doubles … The best thing about Special Olympics and the World Games is that they provide opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to feel joy and the interact with the others.”
Ms. Saranovich added, “The role of the fathers in families with children with intellectual disabilities is especially important for inclusion. Partners like Special Olympics are valuable for UNICEF, because they help this positive change to come, they set an example. And to the fathers—the more sensitive you are, the stronger the man you are, and the more you promote a positive change in the society.”
Partner organisations—including the Down Syndrome Bulgaria Association and the Invisible Bulgarian Children (Autism Today) Foundation—and representatives of the Sofia municipality and the Parliament also joined the event, where the spotlight for the day was firmly on the fathers. In fact, a number of fathers shared their experience—from the complexities and challenges to the joy and pride—of raising a child with intellectual disabilities.
"Sports is vital for Konstantin"
Peter Doychev, father of Konstantin, a Special Olympics basketball player, emphasized how crucial sports are, particularly as children enter adolescence and adulthood. He noted, “It is a big challenge to be a father to a child with an intellectual disabilities. I am also a single parent which makes it twice as difficult. As a child, Konstantin had Cerebral Palsy. He overcame that but later he was diagnosed with Autism. He is developing well. In many respects, he is like any other boy at his age but in others, he is different of course. Now, as a teenager, he is harder to control. He doesn't want to be with me … This is the greatest challenge now—to continue to help him, as he still needs it but he doesn't want it. We started going to basketball training this year. Sports is vital for Konstantin—for his good health and for his inclusion and socialization.”