Disability sports bodies welcome plans for national schools event


Disability sports organisations have welcomed government plans for a national school sports competition modelled on the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The competition was launched this week by Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who said he wanted to “harness Olympic and Paralympic values to revive the culture of competitive sports in every school in Britain”.

Primary and secondary schools will start taking part in new district leagues from January 2011, with up to £10 million lottery funding.

Successful teams or individual athletes will take part in up to 60 county or city-level finals, with the most talented athletes selected to represent their school at a national Olympic and Paralympic-style event.

The first national finals are set to take place on the eve of the 2012 Olympics in London’s new Olympic stadium.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said there would be a “Paralympic element” at every level of the competition for young disabled people.

There are no details yet on how disabled children in mainstream schools will take part, with Hunt saying he would be talking to Paralympics GB – the charity that runs Britain’s Paralympics teams – about “how we can best bring the benefits of the scheme to young disabled people”.

Martin McElhatton, chief executive of WheelPower, the national wheelchair sports charity, said the plans sounded “very exciting”.

But he said he would need to hear more detail about how much of the funding would be devoted to disability sports and how it would work for disabled children in mainstream schools, as well as for those in special schools.

He said disabled children in mainstream settings do not always find out about sporting opportunities available to them.

And he said it would be important to make sure that the new competitions fit into the opportunities already available for disabled children.

McElhatton said disability and mainstream sports bodies were already working on how to ensure competitive opportunities for disabled people from beginners up to Paralympic level.

He added: “We are looking forward to hearing what it means in reality and how it will work.”

ParalympicsGB welcomed the inclusion of a Paralympic element to the competition.

But a ParalympicsGB spokeswoman said: “Clearly the implementation of the Paralympic element isn’t as straightforward as the Olympic element as many disabled children are integrated into mainstream schools, meaning inter-school competition [will be]harder to achieve in terms of numbers, but we support the ambition and are looking forward to working with DCMS on the plans.”

29 June 2010