Young athletes will mirror Paralympians’ quest for gold in 2012


Some of the UK’s most talented young disabled athletes are to take part in Paralympic-style events in key London 2012 venues, just weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

The events will run alongside those for non-disabled young people at the finals of the government’s new School Games next May.

Young disabled athletes will compete for medals in swimming, athletics, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing and table-tennis, with demonstration events in other sports yet to be decided.

The finals will take place in the main Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and the cycling Velodrome – all in the Olympic Park in Stratford – and the ExCeL Centre in London’s Royal Docks, with finalists selected by their national sporting bodies.

The competition aims to “mirror” the Olympics and Paralympics, including opening and closing ceremonies, and will be the last event held in the Olympic Park before the Olympic opening ceremony on 27 July.

In the months leading up to the finals – but only in England – there will be competitions within schools, between local schools, and then county- and city-wide festivals.

The county- and city-wide events will have to include a minimum of eight sports, of which five must include competitive opportunities for young disabled people.

So far, a third of English primary and secondary schools – about 8,000 – have signed up to take part in the School Games, which includes a commitment to provide opportunities for competitive sport for their disabled students.

These opportunities are likely to come either from linking up with disabled students in other local mainstream schools, or by providing inclusive sporting opportunities in their own school.

Alison Oliver, director of sport for the Youth Sport Trust, the organisation commissioned by Sport England to deliver the School Games, said there was “no question” that the competition would increase sporting opportunities for disabled young people.

She said: “The biggest challenge is making sure that those opportunities are as meaningful and sustainable as possible, so what we are building is not just something that is here today and gone tomorrow.

“This is about giving young disabled people the same sorts of possibilities we give non-disabled young people, in enabling them to achieve their personal best.

“There is no doubt that more young disabled people will be engaged through this. The biggest challenge is how big the transformation will be.”

National sporting bodies will select the athletes to take part in the finals, who will compete for England – or possibly for their English regions – against young people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the four Olympic venues.

At this year’s UK School Games – the predecessor event for the School Games – eight per cent of the 1,750 competitors were disabled young people.

Oliver said she hoped this would rise to 10 per cent for the finals of the School Games next May.

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, said: “The competition will use the inspiration of 2012 to transform competitive sport in schools and get more young people playing sport, long after next summer.”

More than £100 million of National Lottery and government funding is being invested in the School Games over the next three years.

13 October 2011

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