Opening doors to a new life, Germany's first inclusive football club

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-22 20:36:31|Editor: Wu Qin
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By Oliver Trust

BERLIN, June 22 (Xinhua) -- The surroundings couldn't be more fitting as the ancient abbey in the heart of Alpine Bavaria provides a perfect backdrop. The 20-year-old Chinese Zhang Tianjiao's enchanting movements put the crowd under her spell, the fascinating world of dance and the Benedictine monastery in the village of Ettal near Garmisch-Partenkirchen seem to merge.

Hardly any of the spectators, enraptured by the Beijing resident's enthralling performance, were aware that the Chinese dancer is wearing a special hearing aid developed by the Swiss-based Sonova Holding AG.

The stand-out artist is a top modern and traditional dancer in spite of suffering from impaired hearing since early childhood. The contemporary technology implemented in Sonova's Phonak hearing aids have allowed her to make her dreams of a life as a professional dancer come true.

Like "Jiaojiao", other performers with hearing loss such as the Swiss artist Jason Bruegger, one of the top acts of the Swiss national circus Knie, and Simon Ollert, who was a third division professional footballer, have gathered to promote the founding of Germany's first inclusive football club in charity event for the non-profit Hear the World Foundation.

After the stunning success of football camps for disabled children over the past four years, 22-year-old Ollert decided take the next step as "I want to encourage young people and kids to try and live their dream and make the most out of their lives."

His goals may be ambitious, the striker plans to participate in regular leagues with the Inclusive Football Club Munich United from 2020. It is essential for the new club to have bold targets, the IFC president Ollert told Xinhua in an interview.

"I'm dreaming of our club getting as far as the fourth tier within the next ten years and developing to the world's biggest club in terms of members," as Ollert put it, which means to break the 300,000-member barrier as Germany's leading professional football club Bayern Munich has 291,000.

Be part of "normal" society is the major goal of Ollert and his fellow campaigners. Bright-eyed, the young German describes improvements to hearing aid technology that allow him "to hear the sound of his parents' voices for the first time in my life."

The inclusive club will be open to all soccer players, whether handicapped or not and is said to provide opportunities for up-and-coming players. Ollert plans to open a junior section too.

According to the latest figures from a study conducted by the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association from 2018, 12.2 percent of the people in Germany suffer from hearing loss. The proportion of children up to the age of 14 with hearing loss is about two percent.

As the former student of the Ettal Abbey's boarding school, dancer Zhang cherishes the new opportunities for youngsters suffering from hearing loss and deafness. The Chinese dancer has led dancing workshops for kids in Shanghai.

"Dancing has changed my life, and I'm determined to pass on my good fortune to others to allow them to pursue their dreams. To dance, feel and hear music can be a bridge to a better life," Zhang added that she and her fellow artists intend to not only encourage youngsters but their parents too.

Despite her hearing loss, the dance could not be more passionate when performed by Zhang Tianjiao. "I can feel the music through my heart," she emphasizes.

Ollert said it is overwhelming for him that Zhang and he, though living "6000 to 7000 miles apart" feel the same obligation "to pass on encouragement to others" while relying on the same technology of hearing aids.

Disadvantaged youngsters, he underlined, experience fair play, team spirit and can gain self-confidence and compete with their peers, thus developing their sporting prowess and social skills. An improved hearing quality combined with the outstanding spatial vision naturally developed by people with hearing difficulties can help open doors to a new life.