Disability sport ‘controlled by non-disabled people’, DNS survey finds


theweeksubMost of the UK’s leading national disability sports organisations are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a new survey by Disability News Service (DNS) has revealed.

The survey of 10 of the most influential organisations in disability sport was carried out after the British Paralympic Association admitted to DNS two weeks ago that it had only one disabled person on its board of nine directors.

The survey results, which cast further doubt on the much-touted “legacy” from the London 2012 games, found that disabled people made up 30 per cent or less of the board in six of the 10 organisations, while three of the sports bodies had just one disabled person on their board.

The DNS survey reveals that only two of the eight directors of Scottish Disability Sport, just one of the eight directors of Disability Snowsport UK, and three of the 10 directors of the English Federation of Disability Sport are disabled people.

Out of the 12 directors on the Disability Sport Wales board, a maximum of three are disabled people, while just one of the 11 directors of the UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability is a disabled person.

And only one of the six board members of Boccia England is disabled, although a spokeswoman said that directors were elected by its members, most of whom were disabled people.

Other disability sports organisations have demonstrated a greater commitment to entrusting the leadership of their organisations to disabled people.

Every member of the board of the British Amputee and Les Autres Association (BALASA) is a disabled person, while half of British Blind Sport’s board are blind or partially-sighted, there are five disabled people on the 12-strong WheelPower board, including its chair, and half of the 12 directors of British Wheelchair Basketball, including the chair, are disabled.

Richard Saunders, the former Football League linesman who chairs BALASA, is now set to challenge the British Paralympic Association’s (BPA) failure to have a more representative board, at its annual general meeting in November.

He believes at least half of BPA’s board should be disabled people, and compared the lack of representation with the shortage of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.

Saunders said the situation “has got to change” and that the Paralympic movement appeared to be “stuck in a time warp”.

He added: “It doesn’t send out the right message, especially if they are using the cliché that 2012 was a special year for the Olympics and Paralympics.”

Tracey McCillen, chief executive of the UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability, admitted that change was overdue.

Her organisation is undergoing a governance review, which she hopes will lead to a “fair representation” of disabled people on its board.

She said she believed more work needed to be done to help retired Paralympians add other skills to the “insight and experience” they can bring to a board as former competitors.

And she said her board was committed to finding “meaningful ways” in which to support people with learning difficulties to become directors, as long as that was not “tokenistic”.

Martin McElhatton, WheelPower’s chief executive, said: “We don’t have any quotas. Some organisations do.

“We have always taken the view that it should be the best people for the organisation. If they are disabled then that is a positive. It should always be about the skills of the person.

“That being said, we are an organisation that has always had disabled people coming through our committee structures and being represented on the board.”

He added: “Being a wheelchair-user, I wouldn’t want to be chief executive of this sports organisation just because I am in a wheelchair. I would want to be here on my own merits.”

McElhatton said that asking for the Paralympic movement to be run by disabled people was “like saying Sport England should be run by sports people”.

He added: “It’s a business. You need the right mix of skills on a board. It is not like the BPA do not have access to the knowledge or expertise from disabled people if they need it.

“For me, the most important thing is having the right skills on the board and having the right balance.”

8 August 2013