Growing up in developing countries, the concept of disability sport was unheard of for Manoj Soma, founder of Choice International. Having been affected by Polio as a toddler, he was never given the opportunity to play sport during his childhood and early adolescence in India, where the stigma and cultural barriers were evident.
Over the years, having worked in and built a passion for promoting diversity and inclusion, (specifically disability development), in 2009 Manoj founded Choice International, a not-for-profit international development organisation which promotes diversity and inclusion in the UK and overseas through disability sport. Manoj aims to reach diverse communities using sport as a tool to promote diversity and inclusion worldwide. Following the success of the London 2012 Paralympics, Choice launched Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Tennis sessions in some of the most diverse communities in London, including East Ham, Redbridge and Stratford, with Choice looking to expand their project to Leicester this year.
One of the most remarkable success stories attained from the disability sport sessions is that of Asif Abbasi. Like Manoj, Asif was affected by Polio during his childhood in his native, Pakistan and had never played Wheelchair sports until he joined Choice’s Wheelchair Basketball sessions in East Ham in early 2017. Having learnt that Asif played standing tennis and had coached children, Manoj encouraged him to try Wheelchair Tennis. Asif participated in his first Wheelchair Tennis tournament, The Weald Open, the same year and has since won several singles titles, including twice in the Roma National Finals as well as ITF International Tournaments (ITF Futures), earning a career best ranking of 82, and currently ranked 129 in the world. Asif is the first Pakistani to win an international Wheelchair Tennis tournament and break into the Top 100, becoming a 2x National Series Winner.
“Joining Wheelchair Basketball in East Ham and through Manoj’s encouragement to play Wheelchair Tennis, allowed me to take a sports wheelchair home and gave me a new life.
Whenever possible I take the wheelchair to the local park and practice wheelchair skills and play. I also ask Manoj to practice with me whenever possible. This is how I started my new journey in Wheelchair Tennis.” – Asif Abbasi
After Asif’s success as a singles player, Manoj and Asif decided to play Wheelchair Tennis as doubles. The duo has since garnered much success as a doubles pair, winning several tournaments, including the Weald Tournament and placing as runners-up in the Warwickshire and Roma National Finals 2019.
“I am lucky to be living in the UK where disability sport is promoted and supported well, however, my passion is promoting diversity and disability sport for others like myself from developing countries, such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka where people don’t have the same opportunities to participate in disability sport” – Manoj Soma, Founding Director – Choice International
Playing international tournaments helped Asif and Manoj gain more experience, enabling them to compete on a professional level. As there is poor representation from Pakistan or India in Wheelchair Tennis at an international level, both Asif and Manoj decided to represent their native countries as a stepping stone to promote this amazing sport in developing countries. Over the last 3 years, they are the only players representing India and Pakistan in the British Open. However, winning has always been secondary to Manoj and Asif. The duo hope to continue playing international tournaments to improve as players, but more so to inspire and encourage other disabled people from diverse backgrounds in the UK and overseas, to play this amazing sport, especially in developing countries where there is less opportunity and support at present.
Both players have accepted an invitation to play the British Open 2019 in Nottingham this summer, Asif representing Pakistan and Manoj representing India. Manoj has also accepted to play the Marina Open in Chennai, India this August 2019.
To find out more about how you can support this development or to get involved, contact us or call 07940967723.
Choice is looking for sponsors/in-kind support with local facilities, equipment and coaches – please get in touch if you would be interested in helping.