The eighth edition of the Asean Para Games (APG) has barely begun, but it has already been hailed as a game-changer for disability sports in the region.
The level of government support, community outreach initiatives and organisation and planning have already set the Singapore APG apart from its predecessors, noted Asean Para Sports Federation (APSF) president Zainal Abu Zarin.
The 74-year-old Malaysian, who was responsible for the launch of the inaugural Games in 2001, told The Straits Times: "Singapore has not only raised the benchmark, it has become the terms of reference for other countries in the future."
Held in Singapore for the first time and with a budget of $75 million, the Dec 3-9 APG will feature about 1,200 athletes and officials across a record 15 sports.
Said APG organising committee chairman Lim Teck Yin: "We did surveys which showed not many people were comfortable watching as they didn't know how to approach or engage with an athlete with disability.
"So it was critical for us when planning to have greater engagement and help people understand the Games and the athletes themselves."
Such efforts, including yesterday's launch of the inaugural APG Symposium on Sport for Inclusion, have received praise - not just from the other nine participating countries, but also the wider sporting fraternity.
Said American Scout Bassett, an amputee and multiple para-triathlon world championship medallist: "What you guys have done here, to get the word out about this Para Games, is unreal. The hype you've created is greater than anything I've seen back home."
Datuk Zainal also hailed the use of social media to reach out and connect with a younger audience, in addition to the transmission of tonight's sold-out opening ceremony at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
It is the first time that the ceremony will be broadcast live in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. The majority of the 300-plus events during the seven-day competition will also be available for live online streaming.
Noted Datuk Zainal: "This is the start of something extraordinary for our movement to promote disability sports."
The next step would be to see a para-athlete compete at the SEA Games, said the veteran administrator, who previously headed the Asian Paralympic Committee and his country's Paralympic Council.
"There are only a limited number of sports, like maybe archery, shooting or running, where this could happen, but it would send a powerful message to everyone that para-athletes are no different."