Disabled athletes set for a bigger voice within BPA


newslatestDisabled athletes are set to have a voice near the heart of the British Paralympic Association (BPA), after the organisation announced that it was setting up a new Athletes’ Commission.

The commission will act as an advisory group to the BPA, with the seven athletes and two retired athletes reflecting a cross-section of sports and impairment groups.

The BPA’s announcement came less than a month after it admitted there was not one disabled person among the “team leaders” heading the high-level preparations of 21 UK Paralympic sports in the lead-up to Rio 2016.

And in August, a Disability News Service survey revealed that most of the UK’s leading disability sports organisations were controlled by non-disabled trustees and directors. BPA only had one disabled person on its board of nine directors.

Plans to develop the Athletes’ Commission were formed soon after London 2012, BPA said.

A BPA spokeswoman told Disability News Service: “We have always worked closely with our athletes and sought their opinion on plans and projects that we undertake for a Games; for example, we consulted with athletes at several points during the process for designing and developing the kit for London.

“After London, we felt it was important to make the consultation process more systematic.

“The commission will help us to ensure that the athlete voice in all our Games planning is even stronger than it has been previously and that athletes continue to be at the heart of all the BPA’s work.”

The BPA says the Athletes’ Commission will represent athletes’ views to the board, executives and planning groups for future Paralympic Games, in areas such as anti-doping, team planning and preparation strategies, and arrangements for athletes’ villages.

They will also support BPA’s responses to developments at international level, in areas such as classification.

The seven athlete members of the commission – footballer David Clarke, rower Tom Aggar, swimmer Claire Cashmore, athlete Stef Reid, skier Tim Farr, Sophie Christiansen from the equestrian team, and Ben Quilter from judo – were nominated by their own sports and fellow Paralympic athletes.

The seven were elected from a list of 18 candidates, with nearly 500 athletes invited to cast two votes. Nearly 200 athletes took up the chance to vote.

There are also two retired Paralympic athletes on the commission, rower Helene Dyson and wheelchair basketball’s Caroline Matthews, who were selected by BPA after an application process and interviews.

The commission will be chaired by Clarke, who captained ParalympicsGB’s five-a-side football team at London 2012, as well as representing ParalympicsGB in football at Beijing in 2008 and in goalball at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.

Clarke said in a statement: “The BPA is a very athlete-focused organisation and has always proved to be proactive in the work that they do to support us, but this is a fantastic initiative that will further strengthen the voice of British Paralympic athletes.

“I have no doubt that the commission can help the BPA so that athletes continue to be at the heart of plans for each ParalympicsGB team.”

Meanwhile, the UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability, which promotes and supports elite sport for people with learning difficulties, has launched a lottery-funded project to raise awareness of the athletes it works with.

Athletes will work as ambassadors for the My Sport, My Voice! programme, co-delivering workshops across the country, which will aim to “dispel myths” and “challenge outdated attitudes” towards people with learning difficulties, and enhance public awareness of the issues facing disabled people.

Tracey McCillen, UKSA’s chief executive, said: “The whole project is about including the athletes in every aspect, putting them at the very centre as our Athlete Ambassadors and enabling them to have their voice heard.”

The project will be delivered in collaboration with the English Federation of Disability Sport, Scottish Disability Sport, Disability Sport Northern Ireland and Disability Sport Wales.

7 November 2013