Signs are positive for sports participation in wake of London 2012


theweek120by150The success of the London 2012 Paralympics appears to be encouraging more disabled people to take part in disability sports, according to new research.

A survey of councils in England and Wales found that a third of them had seen more disabled people taking part in Paralympic sports such as sitting volleyball, boccia and swimming, in the wake of the games.

The Local Government Association (LGA) survey found that five per cent of councils had seen a large increase in disabled users of their sports facilities when comparing October-December of 2012 with the same period of 2011, with 28 per cent seeing a small increase and only two per cent seeing a small decrease.

Nearly a third of councils that provide goalball facilities saw a rise in numbers, while 25 per cent of those that offer cycling, and a third of the small number that provide equestrian facilities for disabled users, saw a post-games increase.

Nearly a quarter of councils that provide boccia saw an increase in numbers, with sitting volleyball (20 per cent), swimming (20 per cent of councils), wheelchair basketball (18 per cent) and wheelchair rugby (17 per cent) also seeing a rise in participation across a significant number of councils.

More than seven in 10 councils provide swimming facilities for disabled people, while the next most commonly-offered Paralympic sports are boccia (59 per cent of councils) and football (55 per cent).

The Paralympic sports least likely to be offered by local authorities are shooting (two per cent) and equestrianism (four per cent), while six per cent of the 29 per cent of councils that responded to the survey provide no Paralympic sports or facilities at all.

Among the measures being taken by councils to boost participation were relocating adult day centres into sports and leisure centres, and offering a discount card aimed at disabled and older people and other disadvantaged groups.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who plays and coaches with the London Raiders wheelchair basketball club in east London, said he has seen a number of “green shoots” in the wake of London 2012.

He said he was seeing more younger disabled people at matches, while his club was receiving more enquiries from schools and even some from companies that organise corporate events and want their clients to try wheelchair basketball.

He said: “Either the Paralympics or the governing body’s strategy or the two combined is working in wheelchair basketball.”

But he said clubs had also been motivated by the Paralympics to do more work themselves to attract new members, while funding was easier to access, with Sport England last year launching a new £10.2 million Inclusive Sport fund to encourage more disabled people to take up sport.

The British Paralympic Association (BPA) said there had been a 25 per cent increase in people playing wheelchair basketball, and a 33 per cent increase in wheelchair rugby since London 2012, while 1,000 people had visited its first SportsFest, where they could try out Paralympic summer and winter sports.

There are now more than 3,000 disability sports clubs listed on the BPA’s Parasport website, compared with 2,146 before London 2012.

There has also been an increase in interest in Paralympic winter sports, with the number of sledge hockey clubs increasing from five to eight since London 2012.

A BPA spokeswoman said: “We see a number of different indicators across the board that indicate there is interest out there and we are hearing from our sports that there is a rise in participation. Our membership is reporting interest across the board.”

Councillor Flick Rea, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board, said it was essential that councils, sports governing bodies, local sports clubs and community groups kept working together, but warned that investment and innovation in sports and leisure services “could become near-impossible” if councils experienced further government budget cuts.

14 March 2013