Champion Mexican swimmer struggles to find funding to compete

World Today

A world champion athlete said she is facing a tough obstacle in her race to win more medals. She has the talent and the dedication, but a lack of funding is threatening to keep her out of the pool. CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock has details.

Dunia Camacho is a world champion swimmer. She holds eight world records, and has won 58 medals – 28 of them gold — in nine World Championships. She also has Down Syndrome. The Mexican athlete is the reigning world champion in her sport’s Female Down Syndrome category and proudly compares herself to the most decorated Olympian of all time, American swimmer Michael Phelps.

“I’m the ‘Chica Phelps’,” she said. “I always swim very hard and very fast.”

Her mother, Guadalupe, said the sport is a tremendous help to those with her daughter’s condition.

“Sport helps people with this type of disability a great deal,” she said. “In their growth, in their life goals, they become focused. They develop greater physical capabilities and better concentration.”

Yet the swimmer is now facing a fight outside the pool. She depends heavily on government funding to compete for Mexico on the global stage. But the money hasn’t appeared for over three years, forcing her and her coaches to seek the charity of friends and family.

“Dunia is an extraordinary athlete, and she’s Mexico’s best sporting representative,” said her coach, Joel Gonzalez. “But the institutions that should be helping her simply don’t take any notice. These are athletes who aren’t taken as seriously as conventional sportspeople.”

Around 1 in every 650 babies born in Mexico is diagnosed with Down Syndrome every year. While they can go on to live productive and full lives, their special needs can include additional funding to meet their development goals.

It’s an issue that Arturo Keuchs, who runs a school catering to the needs of Downs children, knows only too well, and for which he foresees a bleak future.

“We’re currently living through a period of austerity imposed by our government, so if it was the case that these vulnerable groups have been ignored previously, I fear that the situation is going to become even worse, and that we won’t be taken into account any longer,” said Keuchs.

Dunia is now training to compete in the 10th Down Syndrome World Championships in Australia in October. As she waits on the funding to represent Mexico there, she depends on national authorities to recognize the importance of her fight.