He was born with spinal atrophy and got to swim through a medical recommendation to his parents. “Ever since I can remember I’m in contact with water”, recognized Ariel Quassi. During his childhood he trained and competed with children without disabilities. In 1997, with 14 years, he participated for the first time in a paralympic swimming tournament, in the city of Santa Fe, Argentina. “I found a world that shocked me, every boy or girl had some kind of disability”, remembered about his first experience in adapted sports.
He became champion on his first competence at national level, and so he was called to join the national team. In 1998, despite having qualified to the World Championship in New Zeland, he remained out of the call. “It was really hard, I was very young. I didn’t want to swim no more. Litte by little I got recovered and could train again”. After the deception, he had his own revenge in the Panamerican Games of 1999, where he got the qualification for the first of his four participations in Paralympic Games. “That first Game was the breakpoint, there I started to meet the elite of paralympic swimming”.
Current Sports Director at the DeportIC program, project based on the Argentinean provinces of Chaco, Corrientes and Buenos Aires, with 90 active athletes. At his 36 years, he recognizes: “The idea is to retire on August 2019 after the Panamerican Games in Lima”.
Why will you get retired?
I wanted to do it in Rio 2016, but it wasn’t possible. I went into surgery that year, and then I participated in the World Championship of 2017. I had chosen to retire in the South American Games of 2018 in Buenos Aires, but I wasn’t able to do so. I’ve been postponing it till now. I want to finish my career at a major tournament.
How is your preparation for this highly competitive tournament?
I train every day. I’m pretty obsessive and I try to rise to the challenge. From Mondays to Saturdays, I only have 10 free days a year. Double shift, gym workout. I always have a medical and nutritional follow up.
Is it any different the way to get ready to compete for an athlete with a disability than for one without it?
Preparation is exactly the same, the only thing that changes is due to the specificities of each of the disabilities. Considering that, the volume of trainings can change, or some exercises that are doable or not. In the paralympic sports, work is based on the abilities of the person with a disability.
What are your future expectations after August?
I’ve been teaching at university for 11 years now. I started very young, at 25, and I’ll keep on doing it, together with a sports director position at a project for children with disabilities where I’ve been working for the last 2 years. The truth is that I like the coach function. Besides, with what’s been going on (in Argentina the National Department of Sports was brought down to an agency by decree of the Government), I have been called from both the ENARD (the Argentinean national entity of high-performance sports) and the COA (Argentinean Olympic Committee) to participate in different meetings, given my experience and the way I am.
What is the current situation after the transfer of the Department of Sports to agency through a decree?
It’s something that got us convulsed. The decree took us by surprise. You could listen to people talking about the transfer, but nobody expected the way it occurred, through a decree. I think some tough months will come, thanks to the lack of skill from the directors that decided this just before the Panamerican Games.
Also it’s a political decision taken too close from the YOG held at Buenos Aires.
Yes, it’s a very inappropriate time to take such a sensitive decision. I believe that this kind of sportive decisions should be taken within the sportive periods. I mean, if you have an olympic period, you should respect it, and then make the corresponding modifications. I think that it’d have been more reasonable to wait for Tokio 2019 and then see how to restructure the Argentinean sport.
How does this “new” reality impact on the preparation of the athletes?
The fact is that the ENARD changed the reality of our sport, because it highly increased the support. Before that, we were under the orbit of the Department of Sports. Although there were some difficulties to work together, these two organisms were developing well. We’ll see how it evolves with the proposed changes. They discuss about the structure instead of the methodology and where to aim.
Do these political decisions hide any kind of business?
If it were a business that benefits the athletes and the society, it’d be very welcome. The problem is when the business only favors those who make it. For example, if the Agency of Sports will work with privates and that will benefit the athletes, then that’s fine. Now, if they’re going to do it without any benefit for the athletes, then that’s not good at all. Businesses not always have to be seen badly, but it’s important to keep an eye on how they impact on the athlete.
How does the move of the CENARD affect?
Argentina has a problem related to infrastructure, both the existing and the inexistent. The existing needs to be updated, but there’s too many inexistent, and although sport is still not federalized the way it should be, the concentration of population in Buenos Aires plays a major role. With the creation of a new facility and the destruction of the old one, a unique chance of having two sportive centers gets lost. The only sense for the replacement of one for the other is a business that doesn’t benefit the sport nor the athletes. Besides, for the Olympic Park to work as the CENARD a huge investment is necessary. It would be much more reasonable that the CENARD is kept, and to start to update or modify the Olympic Park, because the competition facilities are located there, but not the containment to the athlete. Also, there’s a school at the CENARD which they want to close instead of moving.
What are the explanations coming from the authorities?
One of the arguments is that it would be too expensive to keep both facilities. The truth is that the adjustments should be made where things are being done wrong, and not where they are being done well…
So it only answers to a real estate business?
The official info is that the movement costs USD 25.000.000 of investment. With that amount they could easily keep both facilities. If it’s an excuse, I don’t believe it. It’s more than enough to keep and develop both sport centers the way they need.
Do you picture yourself in charge of a managerial position?
Yes, maybe. I lived through many good and bad managements. I enjoy much more being aside of the swimming pool and training, but I wouldn’t discard it. In Avellaneda (city located in the suburbs of Buenos Aires), where I come from, I’m an assessor in the sports area. I like to help the sport to develop, for today’s athletes and for future generations.
What’s necessary to promote the sport development in Argentina?
Many things are missing. First, there has to be real political support to sports, which never happened before, not even with the ENARD. We need to match the sports with two other actors of great importance, such as health and education, in order to work together both in the Olympics as in the Paralympics. Another important part is the communication. We are a country oriented to a few sports, and we barely know the existence of the others, totally ignoring them.
Translation by: Julián Luppi