The equality watchdog’s disability commissioner has called for the country’s major disability sports organisations to take action over the “disappointing” number of disabled people on their boards and among their paid staff.
Lord [Chris] Holmes, himself a retired, record-breaking Paralympian and now disability commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, spoke out after a Disability News Service (DNS) survey showed that only one of 11 national disability sports organisations was run and controlled by disabled people.
The survey showed that only one of the 11 had increased the proportion of disabled people on its board since the last survey in 2013, while just 27 of their 163 employees (16.6 per cent) consider themselves to be disabled people.
The British Paralympic Association (BPA), which manages Britain’s Paralympic team, has just one disabled board member out of nine, the same number it had three years ago.
And just three of BPA’s 33 paid staff say they are disabled people, according to its own internal survey.
Lord Holmes (pictured) said: “There is a vast pool of talented disabled people in the UK who would excel in these positions, from the many sportswomen and men who have competed at the highest level in international sport, to those leading in business and the arts.
“It is therefore disappointing to find stagnation, and in some cases, reductions in the numbers of disabled people on the boards of UK disability sports organisations.
“Changes clearly have to be made to bring more disabled people into these roles.”
He also expressed disappointment about the proportion of disabled people employed within the organisations.
Keryn Seal, a key member of the British blind football team, who competed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, also called for change and said he was particularly alarmed by the board numbers.
He said: “You would think that some of them would be people who were disabled, people who have been there and done it.
“It means they are not having any kind of guiding or steering effect on where the sport goes in the future.”
Seal said the lack of impetus for change could be because it would not be in the interests of current board members, as “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.
But he also said that “athletes are inherently quite selfish” and prefer to concentrate on playing and competing, rather than running their sport, while “a lot of people don’t put their head over the parapet”.
He suggested that the bigger organisations, such as BPA, “should be creating schemes where they can build leaders of sport”, for example by running training schemes or allowing disabled athletes and retired athletes to shadow existing board members.
He said: “I would love them to be the catalyst for a change in attitudes. They are the ones that set an example of governance [for other disability sports organisations].
“If they were to lead the way, I think other disability sports would follow suit. They have had time to do that.”
His sport is run by the mainstream Football Association at the elite level, but British Blind Sport – which has two disabled board members out of six – has an involvement at grassroots level.
Seal said: “I would love to be able to drive my sport for the future when I am finished, either at international or grassroots level.”
He said he would also like to be involved in the FA’s inclusion advisory board, and added: “I would love to help change policy in the future.”
Seal suggested that the issue of disabled people on boards was at the same stage that the issue of women on boards was at 20 years ago.
Other Paralympians have so far been less keen to comment on the survey.
One retired Paralympian said on Twitter that he had been “shouting for years” about the issue, but he has so far been unwilling to expand on his comment.
Many other Paralympians have declined to comment this week.
The agent for one high-profile Paralympian said: “Unfortunately this doesn’t fit with our PR strategy for A* in the build up to the Paralympics.”
A BPA spokeswoman said: “The election process for the British Paralympic Association board takes place once every four years.
“The skills and experience required for board members is important, they are responsible for a world leading National Paralympic Committee taking upwards of 250 athletes to the Rio Paralympic Games.
“The next set of elections for the BPA board will take place in 2017 and we welcome a wide and diverse set of candidates for those positions.”
*DNS has chosen not to name the athlete concerned