Three disabled people who could play significant – but contrasting – roles in this year’s London 2012 Paralympics have been recognised in the New Year Honours.
Joyce Cook, chair of Level Playing Field, the user-led charity representing disabled sports fans, receives an OBE for services to disability sports.
As a member of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s built environment access panel, she advised on the accessibility of London 2012’s new venues and athletes’ facilities, and has also advised the 2012 organising committee LOCOG.
She said she hoped London 2012 would “open up a lot of opportunities for disabled people”, particularly for “the average disabled person” who wants to participate in sport, and that it would highlight the continuing struggle to secure “fair and equal access for disabled sports fans”.
Cook said she believed access at the new, purpose-built 2012 venues would be “tremendous”, with facilities for disabled sports fans “second to none”.
She is also managing director of the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) – which she set up with funding from UEFA, European football’s governing body – and is on the board of several football-related diversity groups.
Another disabled person recognised is Neil Robinson, the former Paralympic table-tennis gold medallist, who retired after the Beijing games in 2008 and is now a national GB disability table-tennis coach.
Robinson, who receives an MBE, said he hoped to be part of the ParalympicsGB coaching team for London 2012, but added: “My ambition is to be one of the coaches, but that is certainly not confirmed yet.
“Irrespective of that, I will certainly be helping the squad prepare for London. The team are training very, very hard. There is a lot of talent within the squad.”
Robinson first represented GB in 1981 and competed at six Paralympic games, winning seven medals, including a team gold in the 1992 games in Barcelona, and is a former world number one and European champion.
He said he hoped his MBE would help raise the profile of table-tennis in the run-up to London 2012, and inspire more disabled people to become involved in sport.
John Lambert, who receives an MBE for services to disabled people in Weymouth and Portland, Dorset, has already made an important contribution to the success of London 2012.
For more than 10 years, the former RAF and airline pilot has chaired Weymouth and Portland Access Group, which has played a major part in improving access for disabled people in the area, which is hosting the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events.
He said he had “never seen a place so well set up for disabled people” as the 2012 sailing facilities on the Isle of Portland, while access in the town of Weymouth itself “should be pretty good for disabled people”.
He said: “Weymouth being a relatively flat coastal town, a lot of the restaurants are now accessible. Pubs are not so [good], as a lot of them unfortunately are listed buildings.”
For more than 20 years, he produced and secured funding for his own newsletter, which was distributed by social services to disabled people across Dorset.
Among his current voluntary positions, he chairs the board of the Dorset training organisation Abilities, which helps disabled and other long-term unemployed people into work.
Another sporting talent recognised was Umesh Valjee, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) disability cricketer of the year, who captained England’s Deaf cricketers to victory in Australia last winter, scoring three centuries in the first four games of the tour.
Valjee, who receives an MBE, made his international debut in 1992 and has played 56 times for England, 43 as captain.
Ian Martin, the ECB’s national disability manager, said: “He has been the outstanding performer in international Deaf cricket for many, many years and his reputation both as a player and as a gentleman extends far beyond our shores.
“In disability cricket, a talent like his comes along once in a generation and those who have played alongside him or watched him play have been fortunate to do so.”
5 January 2012