Sports governing bodies must do much more to encourage disabled people to play sport regularly, according to the cabinet minister responsible for the London 2012 Paralympics.
Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, told a conference organised by the government that he wanted to “call time on piecemeal, tokenistic nods to inclusion” by sports organisations.
The 2012 Disability Sports Summit, at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium, was the first such event focused on boosting disabled people’s participation in sport, and was attended by scores of senior figures from sports governing bodies and disability organisations.
Hunt said the Paralympic Games would be one of the biggest opportunities to create a permanent “legacy” from London 2012, and he wanted to see more disabled people “pick up a sporting habit for life”, with Britain setting a “global benchmark for inclusion” in sport.
He said the participation rate of disabled people was currently “far too low”, with only one in six disabled adults playing sport every week.
Hunt, a former shadow minister for disabled people, said he had insisted that all schools taking part in the new School Games provided opportunities for competitive sport for disabled children.
He said the School Games was showing that through “quite simple adjustments”, disabled and non-disabled children could compete on a “totally equal basis”, creating opportunities for disabled children and transforming the attitudes of non-disabled children.
He also called for a “stronger sense of common purpose” among those involved in grassroots disability sport, in order to bring in more corporate investment.
And he suggested that the increasing personalisation of care and support provided a “big opportunity” to increase participation by encouraging disabled people to use part of their personal budgets to fund regular sporting activity and so improve their “health and well-being”.
Chris Holmes, winner of nine Paralympic swimming gold medals before his retirement and now director of Paralympic integration for the 2012 organising committee LOCOG, said he hoped the efforts made to integrate the Olympics and Paralympics for the first time would send “ripples out not just across sport but across education, employment and society”.
He said he hoped the Paralympics would cause a “lightning storm” across the country, “to spark thousands of hearts and minds” among sports administrators, governing bodies and disabled people.
Jennie Price, chief executive of Sport England, who also spoke at the summit, said disability sport was now a “major priority” for her organisation, with the focus on participation in non-elite level sport for disabled adults.
Sport England is to invest £8 million from its Places People Play programme to address barriers to disabled people’s sporting participation.
Price said that only 11 of 46 sports governing bodies had set targets for including disabled people, while participation rates were just over half those of non-disabled people.
Several leading disabled figures warned Hunt and Price at the summit that much more needed to be done by the sports sector.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said one of the biggest barriers to inclusion was the frequent “prejudice” shown by sports governing bodies.
She told Disability News Service later that more disabled people must be represented on governing bodies, while sports organisations needed to do more to engage with disabled people, for example through disability equality training and diversity strategies led and created by disabled people.
Mike Brace, a member of LOCOG’s diversity board and a trustee of the Disability Sports Development Trust, warned Hunt that many disabled children were not receiving their compulsory two hours a week of physical education.
Saghir Alam, patron of Include Me Too, which works with black and minority ethnic (BME) and other marginalised disabled children, warned of the challenge of including children from these communities in grassroots sport when so many disabled people’s organisations were closing down or struggling with funding.
And Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive and a wheelchair basketball player for 30 years, called for action to address the very low participation rates of BME communities in disability sport.