THE continued efforts of Stoke Mandeville Stadium to make sport accessible to disabled people in its role as the ‘spiritual home’ of the Paralympics has been boosted by a new £8 million drive to get more disabled people playing sport.
Britain’s greatest Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has teamed up with Sport England to launch the fund in a week which marked just 100 days to the 2012 Paralympic Games.
It means a wide range of organisations with the ideas and expertise to open up more sporting opportunities for disabled people will be able to bid for ‘£10,000 and over’ of National Lottery funding from Sport England. And that can only be good news for the legacy left by Mandeville’s legendary founder Ludwig Guttmann.
The fund, which has been titled Inclusive Sport, will help to tackle the opportunity gap that sees just one in six disabled adults playing sport regularly, compared to one in three non-disabled adults.
Currently 19.2% of disabled people in the south east play sport at least once a week, up from 17.3% in 2005/6 when the Olympic bid was won.
The investment is part of the Places People Play legacy programme that is bringing the inspiration and magic of a home Olympic and Paralympic Games into communities all over the country.
Research shows that there are a number of challenges facing disabled people wanting to take part in sport. These include a lack of specialist equipment, transport issues, low self-confidence, deliverers who are not trained to offer sport inclusively and poor information about the opportunities out there.
Sport England’s chief executive, Jennie Price, said: “It is an uncomfortable truth that disabled people enjoy fewer opportunities to get involved in sport. Sport England is committed to changing that, and making it easier for disabled people to fit sport into their daily lives.
“The Paralympic Games will put the sporting achievements of disabled people in the spotlight as never before.
“I want to make sure that Sport England’s £8m lottery investment is a catalyst to help more disabled people get involved.”
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who was at Stoke Mandeville Stadium earlier this month for the British Wheelchair Racing Championships, said: “I am delighted that this new allocation of funding is available and is specifically targeted at improving access to grassroots sport to more disabled people.
“I am confident that this will encourage people who don’t come from a traditional sporting background to participate.”
The Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson MP, said: “We want more disabled people to have the opportunity to play sport.
“In the year the Paralympics come home, this £8 million investment will help breakdown some of the barriers to participation and make sport a more viable choice for disabled people.”
Inclusive Sport insists it will build on recent investments by Sport England to improve the expertise offered by the disability sport sector to other organisations that want to get disabled people playing sport.
A spokesman said: “It brings opportunities for new partnerships that bring together experts from both the sport and disability sectors.
“It also heralds a greater focus on disabled participation throughout the sport sector.
“A large number of sports bodies are currently drawing up ambitious plans to increase participation levels among disabled people over the next four years.”
From football to fencing any sport seeking public investment for its disability plans will be required to sign up to targets for raising participation rates among disabled people.
Charles Reed, the chair of English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), said: “This fund represents an important commitment by Sport England and Government to growing the number of disabled people who are active and playing sport.
“I encourage all those who share a passion for seeing disabled people gain the benefits of sport and physical activity to come forward with quality proposals which will make a real difference to people’s lives.”
Tim Reddish, the Chair of the British Paralympic Association, said: “We are hoping that the performances of the Paralympic GB team this summer will inspire lots of disabled people to get active and take up sport.
“We therefore welcome the news that Sport England will provide additional funds to create more opportunities for disabled people to take part in sport.”
> Details of the fund can be found at www.sportengland.org/funding