On 18 October 2011 the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sport joined with the groups on Disability Sport and Spinal Cord Injury to host a discussion about the potential for a long-term legacy for disability sport after London 2012. The meeting was chaired by Paralympic legend Baroness Grey-Thompson, who was joined by Ade Adepitan MBE, Nikki Emerson, Martin McElhatton and Chris Holmes MBE.
The panel were united in their optimism about the prospect of a successful and memorable Games taking place next year. Chris Holmes, a former Paralympic swimmer and currently Director of Paralympic Integration at LOCOG, discussed the preparations in place to ensure that London hosts the “greatest Paralympic Games ever.” Chris described LOCOG’s approach as one which puts the athletes at the heart of every decision that is taken, highlighting the importance of seeing Team GB on the podium. If our Paralympians are successful, he explained, this will have a profound impact on people’s attitudes to disability sport.
While there was much confidence about the UK’s prospects and structures at the elite level of disability sport, however, discussion largely focussed on the barriers to participation at the grassroots level. Nikki Emerson, a wheelchair racer and triathlete, explained that the route into the elite level is far more accessible than at the grassroots – as is evidenced by the fact that only 6% of people with a disability regularly play sport, compared to 16% of the general population. Ade Adepitan MBE – a bronze medallist in Athens and currently a presenter for Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage – highlighted the progress that has been made in recent years, contrasting his experience as a young man (“there was no disability sport in my era”) to the opportunities and pathways that now exist for young athletes.
Disability sport in schools was discussed at length, and the panel agreed that far more progress must be made in schools to ensure integration between disabled children and their classmates. It was suggested that teachers need further knowledge and support to provide appropriate sporting opportunities and to overcome some of the associated practical and logistical challenges that can arise. Chris Holmes referred to an example of an Inspire Mark
programme in Northern Ireland which allowed all children to try disability sport, regardless of their ability, and also suggested that Members of Parliament encourage their local schools to register for the Get Set
The panel then considered how the structures of sport might be improved to ensure a long-term legacy from 2012. Martin McElhatton, Chief Executive of WheelPower
and a former Paralympian, called for greater partnership between the many and various stakeholders, addressing a problem that Ade described as a “lack of interconnectivity” across the sector. Martin suggested that the current funding streams for disability sport might yet be utilised in a more effective way, and that more consideration should be given to the role of disability sport within the health and education agendas.
WheelPower is the national disability sports organisation for British Wheelchair sport, and runs a range of programmes utilising sport to improve the lives of people with disabilities. One example is the ‘Wheel Appeal’, launched in 2008 with the aim of providing equipment, training and support for 2000 individuals with disabilities. To do so, WheelPower has set the target of raising £6 million, and to date five hundred sports wheelchairs have already been provided through the appeal. For more information please visit www.wheelpower.org.uk.