Paralympic movement still run by non-disabled people, survey shows


The organisation that manages Britain’s Paralympic team still only has one disabled board member, three years after a survey found that most of the UK’s leading disability sports organisations were run and controlled by non-disabled people.

A follow-up survey of 11 of the UK’s most influential disability sport organisations – carried out by Disability News Service (DNS) – shows that just one of them is run and controlled by disabled people.

And only one of the 11 has increased the proportion of disabled people on its board since the last survey in 2013.

The new survey also shows how few disabled people are employed by the 11 organisations, with one of them having just one disabled employee out of 18 paid staff.

Its results raise fresh doubts about the much-touted “legacy” from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and the Paralympic movement’s commitment to disability rights.

The British Paralympic Association (BPA), which manages Britain’s Paralympic team, took nearly four weeks to respond to the survey, eventually admitting that it has just one disabled board member out of nine, the same number as three years ago.

And just three of BPA’s 33 paid staff say they are disabled people, according to an internal survey.

Another organisation, Boccia England, does not have a single disabled person on its eight-strong board (three years ago it had one disabled board member), while Disability Snowsport UK has just one disabled board member out of eight (the same as three years ago).

This time, the survey also asked the 11 organisations about their paid staff, and found that just 27 of 163 employees (16.6 per cent) consider themselves to be disabled people.

Boccia England does not have a single disabled employee among its nine members of staff, matching the absence of disabled people on its board. Its interim chief executive, Jerome Pels, did not respond to a request for a comment.

The representation on Scottish Disability Sport’s board has fallen from two of eight in 2013 to two out of 10 now, while it has just one disabled member of staff out of 18 employees.

Disability Snowsport UK said three of its 14 staff had impairments, although it is not clear how many of them consider themselves to be disabled people. 

It said: “DSUK fully believes in equality and as such all roles are open to anyone and we appoint the most suitable candidate out of those that apply.”

But Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson (pictured), one of the country’s greatest Paralympians and now a campaigning crossbench peer, said it was “disappointing” that the numbers were so low and that “more should be done” to increase the number of disabled people on boards and employed in disability sport.

She said the survey confirmed what she had felt and heard anecdotally, that there had been a gradual fall in the last few years in the number of disabled people involved in sports coaching and administration. 

She said: “As the governance of sport is under ever closer scrutiny, so should the representation of disabled people.”

She added: “Sport could learn a lot from the co-production model used in disability rights to ensure that sport is not something that is done ‘to’ them.  

“I think that it is incredibly important that disabled people work in the sport sector, both as a personal opportunity for themselves, but also in order to influence policy at the highest level.  

“In the way that the number of women on boards has changed, there must be pro-active work to ensure the voice of disabled people is recognised, otherwise sport becomes something that is delivered ‘to’ disabled people, rather than something that involves them.”

As in 2013, the board of the British Amputee and Les Autres Association (BALASA) is 100 per cent disabled – the only one of the 11 organisations that is run and controlled by disabled people – while the organisation has no paid employees.

Richard Saunders, its chair, said he found BPA’s attitude “rather strange” and that at least 40 or 50 per cent of its board should be disabled people.

He said: “I think it sends the wrong message out. BPA said they were going to look at it but it’s not on their agenda.

“When you look at the BPA they have a very narrow board, their expertise is very narrow, it is on advertising and on getting money in.”

The UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability (UKSAPLD) still has only one disabled person on its board of directors, and also has no disabled employees among its staff of one full-time and two part-time employees and two interns.

Three years ago, the organisation’s chief executive, Tracey McCillen, admitted that “change was overdue”, and that she hoped a governance review would lead to a “fair representation” of disabled people on its board, which was committed to finding “meaningful ways” to support people with learning difficulties to become directors.

In 2014, UKSAPLD secured funding for a project to help its athletes build a “credible CV”, and 13 of them have now become ambassadors for the charity, with another 10 in “athlete representative” roles.

McCillen said the charity was also moving towards setting up an athlete advisory committee as a further step towards eventually appointing board members with learning difficulties.

But she admitted that progress had been “slow”, and although there had been two vacancies on the board for 12 months, a lack of funding was a “major, major issue” in moving forward.

She added: “There’s no barrier to disabled people sitting on the board but… it has to be skills-led.”

The number of disabled people on the 12-strong board of British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB) has fallen from six to five in the last three years, while just four of its 26 staff are disabled.

Charlie Bethel, chief executive of BWB, said its policy was “the best person for the job”, and he said his board was “extremely effective”.

He said: “Our membership, whilst the largest in disability sport, is still relatively small and of those members, not everyone wants to be on a board and it would be a missed opportunity to be introvert [and]not look for talent further afield.

“Those that are not disabled on the board come with skills and experience that is immense.”

As for paid staff, he said that BWB employs “a wide spectrum of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, gender and disability.  We do not discriminate.”

He added: “On a personal note, I would like to see a lot more members applying for jobs and as such we promote all adverts through to our clubs and on our website.  

“If people have the skills we require and the experience, then the staff would be more reflective of the members.”

Bethel added: “In no way does the approach of BWB suggest disabled people are not up to running the sport, but we would be doing a dis-service to everyone if we only appointed on disability.  

“I would argue our membership of staff and board members is far higher than most other Paralympic sports, if not all, including the British Paralympic Association.”

In 2013, there were five disabled people on the 12-strong board of WheelPower, but now there are just three disabled people out of 11 board members, while seven of its 19 staff are disabled, although only one of them works full-time.

Martin McElhatton, WheelPower’s chief executive, said in a statement: “We have no concerns re the change in the number of disabled people on our board and our position is unchanged in that we seek the right people with the right skills and experience to either work for the organisation or as members of the board.”

He said that the charity’s president, chair and chief executive (McElhatton himself) are all wheelchair-users.

The proportion of disabled people on the board of British Blind Sport (BBS) has fallen slightly to two out of six since 2013, while its only disabled employee in a six-strong workforce has recently moved to a better job.

Alaina MacGregor, BBS’s chief executive, agreed that it was important for an organisation like BBS to have disabled board members and staff, and she suggested it was “a little bit naïve” for any disability sports organisation not to have disabled people represented in some way.

But she said: “We can only provide roles for people who apply for them. We encourage visually-impaired or disabled people to apply for posts and we are a very fair and equal opportunity employer.”

She admitted that the lack of any disabled staff was “not ideal”, but she said BBS was working with the charity Action for Blind People to work on how visually-impaired people can use their sports skills and confidence to secure paid employment.

And she said BBS was hoping to add another of its members to the board, while the seven members of its visually-impaired sports forum – one for each sport – six of whom are disabled, feed their thoughts into the board.

The English Federation of Disability Sport’s 10-strong board has three disabled members – the same as in 2013 – while six full-time staff out of 25 are disabled people.

Barry Horne, its chief executive, said it was “constantly seeking ways to improve our own equality and diversity, especially with disabled people” and that it works “to increase disabled people’s inclusion at every level and support other organisations to do the same”.

He said: “Although our charity name immediately determines the nature of our work with disabled people, it does not mean that disabled people automatically apply for positions.

“Just as the word ‘sport’ in the charity’s name does not mean we only employ ‘sporty’ people, the word ‘disability’ does not guarantee applications from disabled candidates.

“But we always actively encourage disabled people to apply for our vacancies.”

Disability Sport Wales (DSW) says it has improved the representation of disabled people on its board, although the numbers are not directly comparable with 2013.

Three years ago, it said that a maximum of three of its 12 directors were disabled, while today it says five of its nine trustees have an impairment, although not all of them consider themselves to be disabled people. Three of its 10 staff are disabled people.

Jon Morgan, the organisation’s executive director, said: “The ambition of DSW was to set out to increase the number of people with an impairment on the board, underpinned with a really strong skills mixture… we have outstanding individuals on our board, really high calibre.”

He said that “lived experience” was important but so was “wide experience”, because board members need to “operate at high level”.

He added: “You can only work with the individuals that come forward.”

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  • PageMonster

    Tanni should be in charge of the BPC. There’s no excuse for our sports bodies to be run by non-disabled people in this day and age.