Published on February 26, 2013 | by Kane Tuckwell

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Paralympic legacy on track

Paralympic athlete David Weir (right) and another competitor at the London Youth games

Paralympic hero David Weir speaks to an athlete at a London Youth Games event.
Photo courtesy of London Youth Games

The 2012 Paralympic Games sold more tickets, was broadcast to more people than ever before and in many ways eclipsed the London Olympic Games.

In the run up to the Games, emphasis was placed on the importance of creating a sporting legacy, a platform for the nation to produce great athletes and compete with the best for generations to come.

In January 2013, the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) released a report that threw the London Paralympics legacy into question.

The SRA, which represent the country’s governing bodies and 150,000 grass roots athletics clubs in the United Kingdom claimed that only 11 per cent of sports clubs saw an increase in the number of people with disabilities playing sport at their club.

Paralympic swimming coach and London marathon wheelchair racing coordinator Michelle Weltman said: “I have seen the number of disabled people wanting to take up more sports increase, since the Games.

“Across all the work I do, there has been a big increase in young people wanting to take up wheelchair sports, swimming and athletics in particular. I have also seen the number of adults wanting to just get more active increase.”

Different results

The English Federation of Disability Sports (EFDS) undertook its own study in response to the one carried out by the SRA, the research found very different results.

They found that eight out of ten disabled adults were considering taking up sport after London 2012 and that there has been an increase of 362,000 disabled people being involved in sport since 2005.

The federation’s research perhaps falls apart at the word “considering”. People consider doing something new every day only to realise it would be too difficult or impractical.

How could the most successful Paralympic Games of all time indicate such a poor return in participation? The SRA say that only one in four clubs has the amenities and the staff to be able to help athletes with disabilities.

The federation claims that investment is there. In the past two months, it has released several statements on new investments such as Sport England’s £2 million investment in the federation’s work over the next two years and £10.2 million being invested in more than 44 different sports clubs by the National Lottery.

Extra funding

It seems that the federation’s research is closer to the mark, but Weltman believes it is not just the extra funding that has helped bring disability sport to the forefront.

“I think there are a couple of things that have contributed to this. One is the realisation that actually, as a disabled person, they saw how they could take part in sport and realised how accessible sports is. I also feel that, for the first time, disabled people realised that the wider community was more accepting of them as people.

“There are still a number of barriers to participation for many disabled people and this will take time to break down, but I think that more national governing bodies, local authorities and clubs are realising the importance of having more inclusive activities that everyone can be a part of.

“The Inclusive Fund pot that was distributed by Sport England just before Christmas should also help many of the recipients of the fund to provide innovative activities and opportunities for disabled participants of all ages.”

Reduced allowance

Many people may fear that participating in sport will see their mobility allowance reduced under the new personal individual payment scheme. This loss of benefits would mean many would not be able to afford to attend sports clubs.

Weltman tried to alleviate these fears: “These changes have been in place for quite a while now and I have not seen any changes in the people who attend my sessions. But I do have a number of friends who are disabled and this has affected them all in very different ways. Transport is a barrier for many disabled people.

“It is hard for me to comment, as someone who does not use a service like this, but I can see how this would affect many disabled people across the country. The scheme is there to allow disabled people to be as independently mobile as possible and so, once restrictions are in place, there is no doubt it would have an effect on people,” she said.

Whichever view you have on the legacy of London 2012, it is still a work in progress. It will take years before we can truly analyse the impact it has had on sport in Britain. The most important part of the London Paralympics will not be the Games itself, but what it has left behind in the facilities and interest around London.

Weltman believes we can look forward to a bright future, not just at an elite level: “It has been a little bit slow but I think there are some exciting things that will start taking place shortly and a lot of new events that have been created because of the Games.

We must understand that disability sports are not just about Paralympic sports, but we can use the Paralympics to help inspire and enthuse people.”

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