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It is obviously a wonderful transformation, Presiding Officer—I have much more hair, anyway. [
It gives me great pleasure to open the debate. Tackling inequality is a priority for the Scottish Government. We have to ensure that disabled people benefit from all that we are doing to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland. That is why, in December 2016, the Scottish Government published “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”, which is a disability action plan that contains five longer-term ambitions and 93 practical actions that the Scottish Government will deliver.
The action plan will take us significantly further forward in implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and realising the rights of persons with disabilities. We are confident that that will add to the success and prosperity of our communities and country. The plan is our commitment to disabled people’s rights and contains an ambition on active participation.
Tackling social isolation and loneliness, which can affect anyone at any stage and age of their life, is also a priority. It is known that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, which is why we are tackling them with a preventative approach that allows them to be treated as a public health issue.
We understand that disabled people and people with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of social isolation and loneliness than others. The results on loneliness in the recent Scottish household survey indicated that people living with a long-term physical or mental health condition are more than twice as likely to experience feelings of loneliness compared with those living without such conditions. “A Connected Scotland: our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections” is a step forward in tackling those issues.
I recognise that sport has the power to change lives. We know that being physically active is one of the best things that we can do for our physical and mental health. I am proud that the Scottish Government is determined to create a modern, inclusive Scotland that protects and respects human rights, a key element of which is the promotion of equal participation and access to sport.
There have been a number of high-profile successes in sport for people with disabilities. Scottish athletes won six medals at the world para-athletics championships in Dubai this year, and nine at the world para-swimming championships in London. We are going up the medal scale.
In March, the Scottish wheelchair curling team won the silver medal at the world wheelchair curling championships, which were held in Stirling. Since 2015, the number of Scottish para-athletes to be selected on to world-class programmes has increased from 27 to 33. The number of sports in which Scottish para athletes have been selected has also increased from nine to 11.
However, we know that having a disability, at both high-performance and grassroots levels, can still be a major barrier for many people who want to participate in sport and physical activity. The Scottish Government firmly believes that there should be no barriers at all to participating in sport. Everyone should be able to enjoy sport, whoever they are and whatever their background. I look forward to discussing with and hearing from members across the chamber how we can do more to remove the existing barriers, so that disabled people have every opportunity to improve their physical and mental wellbeing—and maybe to increase that bag of medals as well.
When I attended the special Olympics last year, I saw how people of all ages and backgrounds, supported by sporting organisations across Scotland that provide them with the tools that they need to achieve their own personal goals, can change their lives through sport and feel a sense of empowerment. It was an absolute joy to be there. I was involved in the special Olympics a long time ago—I may talk about that later.
Scottish Disability Sport is doing great work in highlighting the benefits of getting people to participate in sport. It works to co-ordinate, in the widest possible areas of sport, athletes and players of all ages and abilities who have physical, sensory or learning disabilities, and it works in partnership in order to develop opportunities for disabled people.
I congratulate SDS on recently winning the sportscotland transforming coaching award for its young start programme, which is an exciting programme that supports the transitioning of participants on their journey into being coaches. Currently, 79 per cent of the participants have successfully achieved qualifications and are now deployed within the coaching workforce. It has been estimated that that has had an immediate impact on 1,500 individuals. That is great to hear.
I want to take us back a wee bit. While we are talking about success and legacy, I want to mention Janice Eaglesham, a former colleague of mine whom we lost in August this year. I first worked with Janice in the early 1990s, when I was working with a group of athletes in the learning disability sector. She was not only a brilliant coach but a fantastic inspiration to everyone around her, and many people whom I worked with went on to run with her Red Star Athletics Club. Many of them won medals in the special Olympics and other events.
You couldn’t keep up with Janice: she was fast at everything and did everything at a pace. She stayed in the next building from me where we lived in Glasgow. She used to run with her greyhound, and I would stand at the window and just marvel at her. She gave that type of commitment to everything that she did, and it is absolutely right that she is recognised in the chamber today. [
Janice Eaglesham is a great loss to disability sport in Scotland, at both national and international levels, and I hope that the Parliament will join me—in fact, it just has—in passing on our condolences to Janice’s husband Ian Mirfin, who is a renowned athlete and sports coach himself, and all her family and friends. I hope that members are happy to do that today. By their applause, they have recognised her. Janice touched many, many lives.
I move on to some issues around equality. The Scottish Government works closely with sportscotland on equality in sport, and its new corporate strategy, sport for life, outlines a vision for an active Scotland where everyone benefits from sport and inclusion underpins everything that it does. The new inclusion principle underpins the commitment to show greater leadership, to influence and drive the changes that are needed to address inequalities, and to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get involved in a sport that they love.
The sport and physical activity sector must recognise and understand that each individual has a specific range of different characteristics and complexities if we are to effectively address issues that may be preventing or constraining people from getting involved and progressing in any aspect of sport or physical activity. We need a really focused, person-centred approach.
For our part, the Scottish Government is committed to supporting equalities in Scottish sport, ensuring that people of all ages and from all communities across Scotland have the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity. Extra funds have been distributed by sportscotland to help meet the Scottish Government’s priorities on reducing the inequalities in sports participation that I have just talked about.
In particular, the First Minister opened the national sports training centre in Inverclyde in 2017—the first sports training centre of its kind in the United Kingdom. Oh, what Janice Eaglesham and I could have done with that in the early 1990s—but we still did great work anyway. That state-of-the-art residential facility was designed with inclusivity in mind for disabled sports users—both performance and community users. It will ensure that Scotland is even better placed to support our disabled athletes in their preparations and will help to ensure that sport and activity are absolutely accessible.
Sportscotland is working with governing bodies to improve access to information and sporting opportunities for British Sign Language users. The process was started with consultation at the recent sportscotland equalities and inclusion conference to establish the needs of sports governing bodies in improving their work in that area.
I recognise the good work that is going on across the whole country to create opportunities for disabled people to engage and participate in sport. However, there is always more to be done.
At this point, I congratulate and recognise the work of the McGee brothers, who are international world leaders in boccia, with many medals in their cache. They are constituents of mine, and I am always proud to meet them out and about, when they will show me their latest round of medals.
I welcome the support from across the chamber today as we examine new and innovative ways of developing and enhancing disability sport in this country, learning lessons from global best practice and creating an environment where disabled people can excel and harness the mental and physical benefits that participating in sport can bring—and, my goodness, doing that will push us up those medal tables.
I start by declaring an interest: I am a coach, including to athletes designated with a disability.
I am obviously delighted to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, given the topic. I associate myself and my party with Christina McKelvie’s comments about Janice Eaglesham. I have some athletes who worked with Janice. I was at her funeral, and the size of the congregation and the outpouring of love for her and Ian tell us everything that we ever needed to know about Janice. As Ms McKelvie will know, if Janice wanted something, there would not be much point in turning her down. You would just accept it early on—it saved you an awful lot of time, because she was getting what she wanted. She was an incredible woman and she is sadly missed by the whole community.
I start by noting that I do not like the name “disability sport”. I ask members to accept that it is just sport. All the same rules and benefits apply, such as positively affecting physical and mental health, inclusivity and education. Those benefits may be felt more acutely in that community, given the increased barriers to participation, but we could be discussing access to sport for any demographic.
Sport allows for the development of self-awareness, discipline, teamworking, resilience, confidence and greater understanding of diet and nutrition and it tackles directly the scourge of isolation. If we are serious about closing the attainment gap, for example, we need to recognise the crucial impact that activities such as sport can have on learning. I have spoken before about the skills that are learned outside the classroom being crucial to learning inside the classroom.
However, the simple truth is that participation still relies far too heavily on the financial status of parents. Sport in general is becoming the bastion of the middle classes and that is starkly obvious in the disability community. Disabled people in Scotland are far less likely than non-disabled people to participate in sport. The overall picture is that people with a disability are less active across the board, have poorer experiences with school physical education and are therefore less likely to participate in sport as adults. Too many school pupils with a disability sit at the side during PE lessons because either the teacher is unsure of how to include them or the facilities to enable their inclusion are not available.
If we throw rurality or deprivation into the equation, there is a further huge drop-off in participation and opportunities to participate, which is felt even more acutely in the disability community, as shown by a few examples. I have spoken many times in this chamber about the powerchair footballers and how they humiliated the parliamentary team—
I am sorry. They totally humiliated the parliamentary team 6-0 in a 10-minute demonstration game during the Scottish championships. To this day, Alexander Stewart remains traumatised; when he left the park, it took about 10 minutes before we could get him to even blink.
That example demonstrates that, no matter what the sport, if we do not practise, we will be easily beaten by those who are committed and train regularly. The Ayrshire Tigers are my home team; I have spent quite a bit of time with them and hosted them in the Parliament. They say that transport and cost are preventing the expansion of the team to include all who want to participate, and that those issues threaten their existence. They get together to train and play several times a week. How would they replace that inclusion and participation—which is crucial to their health and wellbeing, as Christina McKelvie has mentioned—if the club was not there?
Disability motorsport gives the chance for a section of the community that is usually overlooked to charge around in a race-prepared sports car. I have been driven round in that car; believe me, Presiding Officer, there is no chance of dozing off. The camaraderie and the fact that people are prepared to recognise them as part of the community is a unique experience that is vital for anybody there. I know that that voluntary service is under threat due to finance, once again. It takes £40,000 a year to keep the car running and to get access to the race track.
I coach a young man who has learning difficulties, which is why I knew Janice Eaglesham so well. He has amazing foster carers who go way beyond the extra mile to ensure that he, and others in their care, miss out on nothing. He went to the European championships last year in Paris and came away with a bronze. He qualified for the world championships this year but could not go because of finance—the championships were in Australia. I have watched that young man develop in stature and confidence over the past few years to a point where he is now at college and living on his own, with the continued support of his foster carers. Just for the record, he runs 23 seconds for 200m, so he is very impressive—he is just a big ball of fast-twitch fibres. Where would he be without that opportunity to train with a squad of athletes, be treated exactly the same as everyone else and travel abroad to represent his country? That is the kind of approach that we need to embrace. We must make sure that there is an opportunity, no matter what the barriers are, to allow people such as that young man to achieve, with all the confidence and resilience that his participation has taught him, so that he can become that contributor to society.
What is the alternative for these sports participants? Is it a lifetime of care, of welfare, of seclusion and isolation? What would be the cost of that pathway, both financially and, more important, to their personal wellbeing and quality of life? I suggest that it would be much greater downstream.
The Scottish Government spends the best part of £18 billion on health and education, but only £40 million or so on sport. Given that there is agreement across the chamber on the huge benefits that sport and activity can bring to health and education—how sport can open up a whole new world of opportunity—is it not about time that we got serious about it and funded it properly?
I recognise that the word “sport” can be daunting to some people. Let us start talking about it from a health and wellbeing perspective. We are talking once again about the preventive health agenda in its most raw form. Nowhere else could it be more aptly demonstrated than in disability sport: inclusion; camaraderie; confidence; resilience; achievement; physical and mental health. Surely that kind of investment has to be an easy ask?
I finish by mentioning Kayleigh Haggo, a young athlete from my area, who won gold in the 100m racerunning, and took the world record at the world para athletics championships in Dubai. She is an incredible athlete, who has also excelled in the swimming pool.
Although sport is not primarily all about medals and international vests, it is great for youngsters to see what is possible. Just that ability to participate: surely that has to be within our gift.
As Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on sport and equalities, I am delighted to speak in today’s important debate on disability sport and participation.
Tuesday 3 December was international day of people with disabilities, and purple light-up day—a global movement designed to draw attention to the economic empowerment of disabled people. Empowering disabled people must be at the heart of issues such as improving participation in sport.
Scotland is fortunate to have many leading athletes and sports people of all abilities, and we must always take the time to recognise equally the successes of disabled and of able-bodied athletes. I am sure that members will agree with me that elite Scottish sporting role models should be representative of all backgrounds.
There are two conflicting themes in today’s debate: championing success in disabled sport; and reflecting on the low levels of participation across the disabled population, and the challenges that continue to prevent participation.
It is evident that sport can have a significant impact on the life of a person with a disability, no matter how complex that disability might be. A wide range of sports and activities are on offer for disabled people and I have been fortunate to meet representatives of several of those activities. I recently met Ryan Galloway, the honorary secretary of the Scottish PowerChair Football Association, in Parliament. In addition to the Scotland powerchair football team, there are nine teams involved in the powerchair football league, each of which is run entirely by volunteers and relies on funding, donations and sponsorship. When I asked Ryan what challenges he faces in running the powerchair league, he said that changing places and toilet facilities—not just at venues, but at the service stations that players use when they travel across Scotland—were at the top of the list. Colleagues across the chamber will know that Jeremy Balfour and I have campaigned to increase the availability of changing places and toilets.
Many voluntary groups are working to support disabled people in sport. The Riding for the Disabled Association is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through the provision of horse riding, hippotherapy and carriage driving. With the help of more than 150 volunteers, the RDA Glasgow group offers 47 hours of classes per week, which provide opportunities for therapy, achievement and enjoyment; improve health, wellbeing and self-confidence; and benefit mobility and co-ordination.
Disability Snowsport UK believes that taking part in adaptive snow sport has the power to transform a person’s relationship with their disability. It is committed to enabling all people to participate in a snow sport, regardless of disability, injury or experience. In the new year, I will meet Sean and Kieran from DSUK at Braehead to see at first hand the activities on offer and hear about the challenges they face. I believe that I will also have the opportunity to participate.
Unfortunately, disabled people have to overcome a range of barriers when participating in sport. This helps to explain why only 20 per cent of the disabled population meet the recommended level of physical activity; far short of the 52 per cent level of non-disabled people. Scottish Disability Sport reveals that almost half of disabled people fear that they would lose benefits if they were seen to be physically active. That is a major barrier and a clear sign that our welfare system is failing disabled people.
I recently met Kyle Anderson, a pupil from Lasswade High School, who told me of the work that his school does to support young people with disabilities. It has a unit called the pod, which currently supports 14 full-time and three part-time pupils with a range of disabilities. The pod works closely with the main school and pupils including Kyle participate in a PE class with the pod pupils. Sports include touch rugby and football, with the shared classes building confidence and social skills and, more importantly, breaking down barriers. It has become a highlight of the week for both pod and mainstream pupils. I am sure that everyone in the chamber will agree that that initiative and the work that pupils such as Kyle and Lasswade school do is an example of good practice that could be replicated right across Scotland.
I shall finish with a quotation from a disability campaigner, Mary-Elaine McCavert, that I think we should remember when discussing any issue relating to disabled people.
“Disability has many faces. Each of these faces tell unique human stories that are equally valid. Yet, as we are entering a new decade, we carry into it the same challenges as before. The United Nations declared 1981 as the Year of persons with disabilities, yet 38 years later we still don’t have full participation or equality. I cannot wait for the day disability is just seen as another notch on the spectrum of diversity. Something that doesn’t need a day to celebrate it because it’s as normal as ‘normal’ is. Yet that will not be possible until we have a world that is accessible for all. We risk erasing disability identity when we focus on ability alone because then we erase the inevitable challenges of living in a world that was not built for us. If we don’t lean into our limitations caused by our disabilities, our requests for access might not be heard. Obtaining that very access to our world which will then allow us to demonstrate our vast abilities on an even playing field”.
I was pleased to see, just last Sunday in my region of Lothian, the University of Edinburgh volleyball club host a low-intensity sports event at the Pleasance sports complex, not far from Parliament. The event was aimed at people with barriers to engaging in sport and physical activity, including disabled people. Students and members of the local community were able to try boccia, sitting volleyball and sitting netball. Boccia has been mentioned already in this debate and I am sure that Mr Whittle will remember the day that he and I mistakenly thought that we were challenging the excellent Stephen McGuire in the garden lobby.
Mr Whittle and I tend towards overcompetitiveness on occasion. Each time we competed with Stephen McGuire, he let us believe for a few seconds at least that we were about to beat him. Then he threw the final ball, his skill shone through and we were put firmly in our places. It was a fabulous introduction to that game, which is gaining in popularity.
I suppose that the essence of this afternoon’s debate is that we want each and every person to have the opportunity to take part in the thing that inspires them. I think that we all agree that we need to do more to ensure that not only disabled people but all people have the full opportunity to take part in sport.
The report for the Scottish Government by Professor Grant Jarvie of the University of Edinburgh shows that only 20 per cent of disabled people take the recommended level of physical activity, compared with 52 per cent of non-disabled people. There is work to do with both groups but, clearly, the figure of one in five disabled people is not good enough and we can do more.
Conversely, research has shown that when disabled people take part in sport, they are almost as likely to take part frequently—more than 15 days a month—as non-disabled people are. Therefore, it is important that we break down the initial barriers to participation.
Mary Fee has spoken of the barriers around access to changing places and access to toilets in changing places, and that is key. I was pleased to have an amendment agreed to in what is now the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 that ensures that local planning authorities have to account for the provision of toilets. We have discussed that issue more widely in the chamber, and we know that it does affect people, because they wonder whether they can get out and about. Any such barrier leads to social isolation. Accessible venues with the appropriate facilities and equipment are vital.
Earlier this year, we debated the incredible development of powerchair football in Scotland. It is another sport that is developing rapidly, but the lack of basic facilities means that only a few sports centres across the country are able to hold powerchair football events. When we met participants recently, we heard that the sport has had a profoundly positive impact on their lives.
From my experience in athletics, I know that ensuring that coaches have the appropriate skills and understanding is also hugely important. I congratulate sportscotland on the work that it is doing to ensure that coaches are supported to coach people with particular requirements.
Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to discuss the challenges that are faced by disabled people who are participating in sport as well as to celebrate the progress that is being made and the incredible achievements of Scottish athletes and players. As has been mentioned, in 2019 we have seen some outstanding performances. I, too, associate myself with Christina McKelvie’s comments about Janice Eaglesham. She is a huge loss, but what a contribution she made to the lives of so many people in this country.
The Peak sports centre hosted the largest wheelchair curling event outside the winter Paralympics when the world championships came to Stirling. Some 12 nations took part. Scotland put in a very impressive performance to become silver medallists, just behind the champions China.
In October, Allan Ritchie won the bronze medal on day 2 of this year’s world shooting para-sport championships in Sydney, and Sam Fernando of Fife Athletic Club won a silver medal in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Brisbane INAS global games for athletes with an intellectual disability.
Last month, Scottish athletes took an incredible seven medals at the world para-athletics championships, including golds in the T35 100m and 200m for the incredible Maria Lyle, and a tremendous double gold and two new world records for Scottish racerunners, as mentioned by Mr Whittle, Kayleigh Haggo and Gavin Drysdale.
Anyone who has had the pleasure and privilege of meeting those young people will know just how formidable they are in competition and in the effort that they put into all aspects of their lives. I had the pleasure of meeting Gavin Drysdale in the Parliament. At that point, we were discussing his preparations for his highers. These young people are succeeding in so many ways.
Gordon Reid, the wheelchair tennis player from Alexandria, reached the French open singles final and the doubles semi-finals of the Australian and French opens.
Kayleigh Haggo and Gavin Drysdale were two of six contenders for the para-sport athlete of the year award, at the recent Scottish athletics awards. I was struck by the fact that the para-athlete and the athlete of the year award winners were on the stage to receive their awards at the same time. There is great effort to ensure inclusivity.
As well as celebrating, we need to look at what has been done at all levels to expand the opportunities for disabled people to participate in sport. There is the app from sportscotland in participation with Scottish Disability Sport, which helps coaches to access video training and support the athletes who they coach.
I am conscious of time, Presiding Officer, so I hope that you will let me know when I need to wrap up.
Ensuring that disabled people can become coaches is hugely important. The inclusive coach project, which is funded by sportscotland, matches potential disabled coaches with mentors, who meet them regularly to identify their strengths and areas that they might need to develop.
Despite those measures, there are still too few disabled coaches—only around 7 per cent of coaches are disabled, yet one in five Scots are disabled—and I look forward to hearing suggestions from the minister about what else can be done to support them.
Mary Fee and other members commented on the need to ensure that we remove financial barriers. They affect everyone, not just people with disabilities, but we know that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty than non-disabled people, and the costs of transport to training and fixtures can be prohibitive. I was saddened to hear Brian Whittle’s example of a talented athlete who was unable to take advantage of a fabulous overseas representative opportunity because of lack of finance. That is another area that we need to address. For powerchair football, it can cost as much as £1,500 to put on a taster day, so finance is clearly a barrier to the development of new sports.
“A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” is the Scottish Government’s action plan to deliver on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The plan pledges:
“Disabled people’s participation at all levels of sport and physical activity will increase through an action plan developed in partnership with disabled people through a new Equality in Physical Activity and Sport Forum by 2019.”
Three years on from the publication of that plan, I would welcome an update from the minister on progress and how disabled people’s participation in sport and physical activity is being measured, so that we can tell what progress has been made.
It is heartening to see so much positive growth and achievement in disability sports in Scotland, but we still need to do more to ensure that we remove any remaining barriers.
After Tuesday, when I prepared a six-minute speech and, without notice, was told that I had only four minutes, I am now facing the opposite situation. However, I will deliver the speech that I have prepared. Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
Like other speakers this afternoon, the Liberal Democrats believe that everyone should have the chance to realise the benefits of participating in sport and living a more active lifestyle. Active lifestyles help to improve the quality of life in later years, reduce mental health risks, improve health overall and increase people’s employability. It has been good to see consensus breaking out in this afternoon’s debate.
Back in 2016, the Scottish Liberal Democrats said that the Scottish Government should develop a long-term strategy to give access for all to opportunities that are appropriate for people’s ability and commitment to sport, while particularly recognising that funding should be available for talented individuals to achieve their potential. We suggested that funding to support growth in sport and physical activity could come from healthy eating initiatives such as a sugar tax, and we said that we would protect sports and arts funding through the national lottery.
It is vital to recognise the role that teachers and schools play in promoting access to sport, and we also want to support carers by providing free community benefits such as free passes to leisure centres.
Since the present Government came to power, annual investment in Paralympic sports has risen and there has been investment in Scottish disability sport. I am happy to give credit where credit is due, as it is in this case.
However, Scottish Disability Sport reports that participants and performers with a disability still have the lowest participation levels in sport and physical activity. It is widely recognised that there is a lag between current practice and the philosophy of inclusion in physical activity and sport, which we have heard about already, for people with a disability.
As Mary Fee and Alison Johnstone highlighted, it is not really surprising to see that only 20 per cent of people with disabilities take the recommended level of physical activity, compared with 52 per cent of non-disabled people. I make no excuse for repeating those statistics, because they are stark, and we should not rest until that activity gap is closed.
Interestingly, Scottish Disability Sport also reports that almost half of disabled people—47 per cent—fear losing their benefits if they are seen to be physically active. What a disincentive it is that half are worried about engaging in sport because of the perception that they might lose their benefits.
It is vital that we listen to disabled people and involve them in the development of sporting activities. Training and education have the potential to address many of the issues around access to sport and physical activities in general, and they help in raising awareness about access, attitudes and assumptions.
It is essential to show disabled people participating in non-elite and non-competitive sports—in ordinary sporting and physical activities—as well as the elite disabled activities that we see so often on television.
I echo Brian Whittle’s and Mary Fee’s sentiments. Would it not be better to get to debate sport for everyone, rather than highlight disability? I look forward to the time when we get to that position.
We can all take great pride in the achievements of our athletes in Scotland and the records that they continue to break, but it is particularly inspiring to celebrate the achievements of people who break those records and have those achievements despite living with a disability.
I am especially proud of a record-breaking wheelchair racer from my constituency, Shelby Watson. At just 17, Shelby set world records at the 2015 Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association world games in the 400m and 1500m events. She broke the European 100m record as well. Shelby was born with cerebral palsy, which means that she cannot walk and has other disabilities. Despite that, she trains twice a day, every day, as well as undertaking a full-time college course in childcare. She is a truly inspirational young woman.
There are clear barriers to participation in sport for those who have disabilities, including physical inaccessibility and a lack of inclusion. We should not forget that a fifth of the Scottish population has a disability and only a fifth of people who have disabilities take on the recommended level of activity, yet seven out of 10 disabled people want to take part in more sport and physical activity.
Only one in four clubs in the United Kingdom thinks that it has appropriate facilities, adequately trained staff and suitable equipment for disabled people to participate, which means that three quarters of clubs need some additional support. That can contribute to the isolation of disabled people and limit their chances to pursue a healthy lifestyle.
As others have said, Scottish Disability Sport has played an integral part in the development of inclusive sport in Scotland. Its volunteers and staff work hand in hand with local authorities and leisure trusts to deliver the social, mental and physical benefits of activity and sport, which are so important to individuals with disabilities and, indeed, to us all. Working with local partnerships, it has enabled 345 children to receive inclusive sports coaching in the past year, and there have been more than 200 new entrants to the sport of boccia in the past two years.
The south of Scotland is home to a very active disability sport network. In March, Dumfries and Galloway coaches and athletes took part in the special Olympics world summer games in Abu Dhabi. That was the first time that any athletes or coaches from Dumfries and Galloway had been chosen to be part of the Great Britain world games team and they were all immensely proud to be there.
D&G Disability Sport has entered a team to take part in the 2020 special Olympics GB national alpine skiing championships, which will take place in Switzerland in early February. The team of four skiers, accompanied by three coaches, will compete at the games for the first time in a special Olympics winter games. Having started skiing only earlier this year, the athletes have been training arduously on the dry ski slope in Carlisle. They have made tremendous progress in a short period of time, taking part in their first competition in June. Already, they are prepared to take the next step and compete in the slalom and giant slalom events in Switzerland next year.
In June, D&G Disability Sport will host the Dumfries and Galloway special olympics mini games, which will include swimming, boccia and table tennis. It is a regional competition that is sanctioned by Special Olympics GB and sits within the competition advancement pathway. Participation makes athletes eligible to advance to the Special Olympics GB national level of competition in that sport. It is a great opportunity for athletes to compete, and to progress, in their sport.
Just last month, the world para athletics championships took place in Dubai. Scotland had seven athletes represent Great Britain in the event, producing a host of awe-inspiring performances. There was an astounding double gold and two new world records for Scottish racerunners Kayleigh Haggo and Gavin Drysdale. In Scotland, the four-year Get Out Get Active programme received £376,000 in funding. Due to the outstanding success of that programme, funding will be extended for an additional four years, and more than 8,000 disabled people across the UK are already participating.
Improvements to accessibility of sport in Scotland continue to be made. Between 2017 and 2018, 22 national events were organised across seven sports. Five regional para-sport festivals took place, with more than 300 athletes participating. More than 100 individuals across 13 sports were newly introduced. In addition, 14 education and training opportunities took place in the sports of canoeing, goalball, boccia, and swimming, with more than 300 coaches and volunteers benefiting.
We must continue to ensure that everyone in Scotland, irrespective of their background, is able to fully participate in society and in sport. Our success as a nation relies on creating a society in which obstacles to opportunities are eradicated to allow the people of Scotland to achieve their potential. That should be all the people of Scotland, without any limitations at all. I congratulate, again, all the inspiring people in this area of sport, who have done so much to make our country proud of them.
Today’s debate is one that I am glad to speak in, having some considerable experience over my 75 years—sorry, my 76 years—of a fair few of the challenges that have been discussed so far.
In fact, it is almost 77 years. [
It goes without saying that access to sport and exercise is vital for the health of everybody in Scotland. When a group in society is unable to fully benefit from sport, we need to consider what action we can take to improve the situation. That situation is the case for disabled people for a number of different reasons—from physical accessibility to personal or social attitudes. However, whatever the reason, we can, and must, do better as a nation.
For most of my life, my participation in sport has been impacted by disability. Some sports are easier to adapt to, while others are more challenging. Playing croquet, for instance, is less challenging than my other favourite pursuit, which is sailing. Even then, support has been available through the charity Sailability Scotland, whose work I will take a moment to highlight. Working with the Royal Yachting Association, of which I am a member, and Scottish Disability Sport, Sailability works with sailing clubs and centres to promote sailing for all those with any form of physical, sensory or learning disability. That can mean helping with the setting up of new, disabled-friendly sailing clubs, or working with existing ones to adapt their existing practices. It can mean maintaining a fleet of boats that are suitable for disabled people to use, or organising competitive racing events for disabled people.
Sailability’s work has made it possible for hundreds of disabled sailors to enjoy quality time on the water, and, since its founding in 1992, the charity has played an instrumental role in getting disabled people involved in sailing. That is largely done by adapting existing practices to support those who are not able to benefit from them. Without my left hand it can be difficult to manoeuvre a boat and pull the necessary ropes at the right time. However, by changing the way the system works, I have been able to go at exactly the same speed as my competitors and I have often won—although it does sometimes involve holding a rope with my teeth, which can be quite uncomfortable. That principle can be applied to many different sports. Entirely new kit is not needed when changes to existing equipment can make a difference and can bring sport to a completely new group of players.
I have received some excellent submissions from organisations in the run-up to this afternoon's debate, as I am sure every member has. I am grateful to all of them for their thoughts. Scottish Disability Sport has been instrumental in driving up engagement and participation in disability sport. I am particularly impressed by its commitment to delivering disability inclusion training to coaches across the country by running more than 100 programmes, involving 1,600 candidates in the past year alone, as well as working with 15 universities to improve access to sport. I am sure that inclusion will be at the forefront of its work in the years ahead.
I am also encouraged by sportscotland's outline of the financial contribution—to the tune of more than £500,000 per year and almost £2.5 million over four years—that it is continuing to make to Scottish Disability Sport. That is in addition to its active schools and direct club investment programmes. The work that it is doing is exactly the kind of work that we should celebrate.
Finally, I recognise the work of the Scottish Football Association, which has been working to develop para-football since the launch of its first strategy in 2012. That has made a clear difference—going from one disability-friendly competition to 14 in seven years. In turn, that has enabled more than 7,000 participants to enjoy their sport and 6,000 coaches to be educated in disability inclusion.
In Scotland today, it is estimated that one in five people has some kind of disability—approximately 1 million people. We know that disabled people in Scotland are far less likely to participate in sport than non-disabled people. We know the devastating impact that a lack of exercise can have on people’s health, and that is no less true of people with a disability. Without any prospect of getting out and enjoying physical activity, it is all too easy to get in a rut and, by the time one reaches middle age, it is a struggle to break out of a downward spiral.
Whenever people have negative attitudes about disabled sports, just show them footage of our athletes in the Paralympic games breaking records and inspiring a new generation.
If accessibility is the problem, let us see how we can work with clubs to help them bring their sport to more people in their communities. Let us look at starting the process as early as possible, by developing pathways from schools and communities into competitive sport.
We take great pride in being an inclusive society for disabled people and it is true that there has been a massive improvement in recent years. However, disabled people’s access to sport still lags stubbornly behind and more must be done. There are so many fantastic role models for disabled people when taking up sport—we only need to glance at some of the performances at the Paralympics to tell us that.
Let us work together in opening new pathways into sport for disabled people and encourage them to get involved at any opportunity. With the right support and equality of opportunity, there is nothing that we cannot do.
As someone who believes in the benefits of sport and physical activity, I am honoured to speak in today’s debate. I firmly believe that everyone, regardless of geography, social background or whether they have a disability, should be able to enjoy sport equally. I know that that sentiment is reflected in Scottish Government policy, as the minister has outlined.
I will go over a few of the steps that the Scottish Government has taken in relation to broadening engagement with sports. Two years ago, the First Minister opened the first inclusive sports training centre in Inverclyde; in 2018-19, the Scottish Government increased sportscotland’s core funding by £2 million for the development of sport in Scotland; and the Scottish Government has pledged to underwrite any potential shortfall in national lottery funding for sportscotland of up to £3.4 million.
The nature of the relationship between the Scottish Government and sportscotland in providing funding is critical to the development of disability sport in our nation and to ensuring that there are opportunities for participation for all. As an MSP, I get to see some of the work that sportscotland does in our schools and in our constituencies to broaden sporting opportunities for all members of society.
Other members have given examples of good practice in disability sports across the country. As is customary, I will focus on examples in my constituency. North Lanarkshire figure skating club, which is based at the Time Capsule leisure centre in Coatbridge, is an inclusive club with members who have additional support needs. Members of the club and their parents have reported a massive difference in members’ social and physical activity, which has such an amazing impact on the trajectory of their lives. Some members have gone on to compete in the special Olympics, with some winning gold medals in Vienna. I am told that one of the coaches—Rebecca, to name-drop—taught the children and trained alongside them, thus demonstrating the positive impact that North Lanarkshire figure skating club has on our skaters and on the community as a whole. The club and sport in general help to relieve all the skaters’ worries and anxiety, as well as those that their families might have, and it acts as a safe haven for all members.
About a week ago, the club contacted me and my neighbouring colleague Alex Neil regarding a 200 per cent rise in rent since it was founded in 2008. Initially, it was charged £40 per hour for use of the ice rink at the Time Capsule, but that has now increased to a whopping £149 per hour. That is obviously putting pressure on the club, which is why it has written to us, and it has led to many of the families who participated dropping out. That is concerning, given that the club has been so successful. Today, for the record, I make it clear to the club that Alex Neil and I will be writing to NL Leisure to ask that the situation be resolved to allow the success of the inclusive club, which began in 2008, to continue.
The Time Capsule leisure centre also hosts North Lanarkshire’s inclusive ice skating programme, which is for people with any type of impairment. The programme is flourishing, with more than 30 families registered. The leisure centre also hosts the Monklands disabled swimming club, which meets weekly, is thriving and is always looking for new participants. A lot is going on, even just in the Time Capsule.
I have spoken about the Coatbridge shining stars group in the chamber many times. With its founder Katie Slaven, the group does amazing work with children and young people with complex additional needs. That absolutely fantastic work includes individual sessions with personal trainers, and kick boxing and sensory circuit sessions, which are provided by a qualified trainer. I know that the minister is still considering fitting in a visit to the shining stars, so I mention the group again, because they would really appreciate a visit. I know that the minister is keen to come along.
Although there are countless sports that we could focus on—I could certainly have mentioned many more examples in Coatbridge and Chryston alone—I want to talk briefly about football, as I am the convener of the cross-party group on the future of football in Scotland. I thank the SFA for the briefing that it sent to members. The SFA has invested heavily in identifying, and catering to, the needs of disabled athletes. Since 2012, the SFA has educated more than 6,000 coaches on the challenges that para-athletes face and their support needs. The investment has led to the number of players multiplying from 1,000 to 7,000 in just eight years.
In the same timescale, the SFA has gone from hosting one disabled-friendly tournament annually to hosting 14. That is still not enough, but it is definitely a massive improvement. The rapid rise in the numbers of participants in the various versions of football in Scotland culminated last August in the founding of Scottish Para-Football, which is the world’s first para-football affiliated national association. That is something of which we can all be proud.
As members have mentioned, in October, Willie Pettigrew of the Scottish PowerChair Football Association visited Parliament and had an exhibition in the garden lobby. When I spoke to him, he told me how powerchair football had helped to reduce his isolation and improve his mental wellbeing, and how it builds players’ self-confidence.
I was alerted at that point to the concern that powerchair players up and down the country still have about access to toilets, particularly in older facilities—other members, including Mary Fee, have mentioned that. Of course, we know that that concern applies not only to powerchair players, but to players of other sports. I would urge the Government, sportscotland, local authorities and other stakeholders to consider what renovations may be required in some of those older buildings. As constituency MSPs, we can all think of buildings in our own areas where improvements might be needed.
We can be proud that Scotland is home to many of the most inclusive sporting projects in the world. We boast huge successes in the para-sports, with world champions in tennis, discus and sprinting, to name just a few. However, if we want to be a truly equal society, we must do more—all the members who have spoken in the debate today have reflected on that. We must encourage disability sport to continue to flourish on equal terms, and we must continue to listen to the needs of those who are involved at a grass-roots level.
I start by declaring an interest: I am the honorary president of the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club, and I have been since 2013. I intend, therefore, to be unashamedly parochial, as a lot about the model that has been developed in Dunbartonshire can be commended to other areas.
Others have talked about elite athletes, and it is right to praise their achievements, but I want to talk about the young disabled people in my area. In 2009, Tommi Orismaa, football development officer at West Dunbartonshire Council, was taking a group of young disabled people and their parents to a game of football in Falkirk. Why Falkirk? I do not know, but during the journey, the parents spoke about the very few opportunities that there are for children and young people with additional support needs to participate in sport, particularly after school hours.
As a result of that feedback, three public meetings were organised and 135 people from across the local disability community in West Dunbartonshire came along to discuss the lack of physical activity opportunities for children and young people with additional support needs. The decision to create a volunteer-led disability sports club was unanimously agreed to, and so the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club was born. The club held its first multisports session in March 2010, with around 27 children and young people with additional support needs in attendance.
Over the past 10 years, the club has expanded its activities. Having started with one multisports session per week, it is currently delivering five physical activity sessions per week for 56 members. The club works in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust, the council, local sports clubs, Children in Need, Shared Care Scotland, the Big Lottery Fund and STV to create club activities such as swimming, football, multisports, residential sports camp and the disability sport youth group. New activities evolve all the time.
During one of the residential sports camps, parents’ health was raised, and the club acted and started a parents’ group. Since 2017, the club provides weekly spin classes and massage and fitness classes for parent and carers who are affected by disability. The club has taken a holistic approach.
The unexpected benefit of the club has been the connections and support groups that the families have created over the years. Families brought together by the club go on holiday together, take the children on social outings together and, importantly, are able to talk to other parents in a similar situation about their challenges and how they cope.
Let me tell members, in the words of two mums, about the impact that the club makes. The first mum said:
“Liam is autistic, with severe learning difficulties. At a disability tennis session we attended, we were aware that all of the children knew each other and we were joining an already established club. One of the club organisers, Allan Clark, approached me and gave me information on the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club. This was local to where we lived, so we decided to give it a try. At the time, we were struggling to get Liam to engage with anything; he was a teenager struggling to fit in and connect with others. Most of the things we tried, he showed absolutely no interest in and wanted to leave after a short time. When we arrived at the multisports club, Liam recognised some of the children he went to school with and, although he didn’t join in, he didn’t want to leave. The coaches constantly encouraged Liam to participate and, slowly, he started to join in the activities. With the support from the coaches and other members of the club, he now participates in all of the sessions.
Over the two years that Liam has attended the club he has become more confident, more active, less isolated and communicates more with the group and at home. On arriving at the multisports session on Saturdays, he runs from the car park into the sport hall in front of me and has joined in the activity before I get into the hall. He now also attends the swimming sessions on Sundays and is enjoying learning to swim.
Being part of the club has contributed to Liam being more confident when interacting with other groups; he is more active and is more comfortable in trying to be part of new experiences.”
This is what Max’s mum had to say:
“My son Max has learning difficulties and was very isolated and lacked confidence to take part in most activities as he thought he was getting judged by other kids for his lack of ability to play games and sports. Max was not interested in sports and physical activity.
Since joining the club in 2017 it has provided him with an environment where he feels comfortable and confident to take part in sport without feeling judged. He participates in weekly multisports sessions and weekly swimming sessions and loves to play football (before joining the Club he would never kick a ball with other children).
His newly discovered confidence has resulted in him trying after school basketball, and he participated in a school football tournament earlier this year. His school has also seen a difference in his confidence and behaviour and awarded him with a special achievement award for PE in May. The changes to Max’s confidence have had a positive impact on our whole family, and we are so grateful for the work Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club does for children in the community.”
One could not put it any better than those two mums have done. Sport for disabled people is inclusive, empowering and builds confidence. It helps participants and their families and it would not happen without volunteers such as Allan Clark and the coaches who do so much to make sport accessible. Let us have more of it, please. That requires more support from every level of government.
As the Scottish Disability Sport report noted, 21 per cent of the Scottish population have a disability and seven in 10 disabled people want to take part in more sport and physical activity, yet only 2 per cent of the coaching workforce and 8 per cent of club members report having a disability.
“Disabled people’s participation at all levels of sport and physical activity will increase through an action plan developed in partnership with disabled people”.
“sportscotland will invest in disabled people and athletes and ensure that the needs of disabled people and athletes are addressed through investment to Scottish Disability Sport, Active Schools Network, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.”
Thirdly, there is a focus on the creation of
“A new parasport facility for Scotland in Inverclyde, with an investment of £6 million” which
“is being built to promote the inclusion of disabled athletes in sport.”
In 2017, the First Minister opened the new national sports training centre in Inverclyde. The £12 million redevelopment was funded by sportscotland and the Scottish Government—partnership working with inclusion at its heart.
As Fulton MacGregor mentioned, at a national level the Scottish Football Association has led on the advancement of football opportunities for people with a disability since 2005. In 2017, the SFA rebranded its work as “para-football”; that terminology is regarded as more positive and empowering than the previous negative “disability football”. Since 2012, the SFA has educated more than 6,000 coaches specifically within para-football.
Across the country, more clubs are improving the ways in which they support the inclusion of all athletes in sport. Last year, I was delighted to support my local team, Glenrothes Strollers FC, as the club hosted its first pan-disability football festival. I met club officials and local football stalwart, Joe McCafferty, at the festival, which brought together 120 young people from across Scotland to compete in the tournament. Over the past three years, Glenrothes Strollers has worked in partnership with the Scottish Football Association and has moulded the landscape of disability football in Tayside and Fife to establish 10 centres to allow people to access the sport. In recognition of its efforts, the club picked up the 2017 SFA community award.
Glenrothes is also home to the Disability Sport Fife headquarters at the Michael Woods sports centre. DSF began life back in 1977 and is a branch of Scottish Disability Sport. In 2017, it celebrated 40 years as the disability sport lead body in Fife for children, athletes and players of all ages and abilities with a physical, sensory or learning disability. DSF leads the development of inclusive sport and active recreation for children, young people and adults with a physical, sensory or learning disability across the kingdom. DSF has sent a paralympian to every Paralympic games since 1992.
Ahead of today’s debate, I spoke to para-athlete Stefan Hoggan. Stefan is an ambassador for Disability Sport Fife and Scottish Disability Sport and he works to encourage young disabled people to get and stay physically active. Stefan started swimming at the age of three. He was born without a lower right arm and took up para-triathlon in 2015 after missing out on competing at swimming in the 2014 Commonwealth games. He finished sixth at the world para-triathlon event in Detroit. At the age of 24, having represented Scotland for more than 10 years, Stefan retired from professional sport. He now coaches the next generation of competitive swimmers at Carnegie swimming club. Stefan told me that it was thanks to Disability Sport Fife’s support that he was successful in sport in the first place—the organisation helped to build his confidence and allowed him to thrive in other fields, including, as some might know, politics.
Nationally, Scottish Disability Sport has delivered more than 100 disability inclusion training opportunities for 1,608 candidates. SDS is training and working with more than 15 universities and colleges to embed inclusion across tertiary education. Disability inclusion training has also been embedded in the curriculum delivery to all trainee PE teachers in Scotland.
Returning to Glenrothes, I highlight Stuart Padley, a member of the Royal Navy who recently competed in the Invictus UK trials. Stuart has been supported by Help for Heroes following a stroke in 2018 and will take part in the Invictus games in 2020. Commenting on what is yet to come, he said:
“Taking part in the Invictus Games in The Hague next year will enable me to move forward with my recovery and be part of a team with similar challenges. I have found that focusing on sports has helped immensely with my mental well-being and fitness. It has made me more determined than ever to carry on with the Invictus journey.”
Stuart Padley’s journey, much like Stefan Hoggan’s, has been about the positive impact of sport on his life. Despite what life has thrown at both those men, sport has been a pathway through which they have honed their talents to the fullest. Fundamental in both those journeys has been the support of partners, whether that be Help for Heroes or Disability Sport Fife. That backing must have been a driving factor in both those success stories. Stuart asked me to thank all military personnel, Help for Heroes and his family and friends for all the support that they have given him.
The Scottish Government is working to ensure that sport is more inclusive for all. From investment in the national para-sport facility to the work of sportscotland across Scotland, more clubs than ever before are focused on developing inclusive practices on participation in sport. Grass-roots football clubs such as Glenrothes Strollers are playing a huge role in challenging discrimination in sport and enabling inclusion for all.
I pay tribute to Glenrothes Strollers, Disability Sport Fife and Stefan Hoggan for their work, and I wish the best of luck to Stuart Padley from Glenrothes in the Invictus games next year.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate on disability sport and participation. I thank all the organisations and individuals who sent briefings and testimonies ahead of the debate, including sportscotland.
There should be no barriers to participation in sport in Scotland for anyone, regardless of ability, background, age or place. As deputy convener of the Health and Sport Committee and as a member for the South Scotland region, I am aware through contact with people and organisations of some of the challenges that persons with disabilities face in accessing sport and sporting activities. Those challenges range from poorly accessible sporting facilities and a lack of sporting teams for disabled people to the costs associated with purchasing sporting equipment. We heard from Fulton MacGregor, Mary Fee and Alison Johnstone that adequate accessible changing facilities are also a barrier to participation.
I fully support the minister’s reference to tackling loneliness and isolation as an issue to be considered in the debate. In 2016, in an attempt to better understand some of the barriers and challenges and to put in place policies to improve participation, sportscotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned a research report into equality in Scottish sport. The report’s authors looked at who currently participates in sport and the barriers to participation, and suggested potential solutions that would encourage participation in Scottish sport, particularly by disabled people.
The research was interesting. It found that, in Scotland, people with accessibility needs are less active. They have poorer experiences of school PE and are less likely to participate in sport as adults. It also found that disabled people are less likely to use leisure facilities, often because of stigma. On a more positive note, the report concluded that when people with disabilities take part in sport and exercise, they are more likely to take part frequently and commit to the sport or activity for longer periods.
How can we support people with disabilities to be able and confident to become involved with sport and physical activity? I am pleased that since the research study in 2016, the Scottish Government has proactively taken steps to improve participation and support for people with disabilities in that regard.
The Scottish Government’s “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” delivery plan sets out ambitious plans for disability sport. It includes three actions on disability sport and is backed up with combined investment of more than £37 million, to deliver state-of-the-art sporting facilities across Scotland, funding for disability sport clubs and groups and access to training and education for sports instructors. That is all very welcome and I am pleased that many sporting organisations have commended the plan.
I will highlight some of the fabulous disability sport groups across my South Scotland region, which are breaking down barriers and encouraging people with disabilities into sport. Dumfries & Galloway Disability Sport, which is co-ordinated by Laura Vickers, from Dumfries and Galloway Council, helps to provide opportunities for people who have a physical, sensory or learning disability to take part in sport or physical activity.
D&G Disability Sport holds numerous classes during the week. On offer are football, judo, table tennis, the splash club and ice-ability at the Dumfries ice bowl, which is a prep for wheelchair curling and skating. All the classes are well attended, and, according to Laura Vickers, many families view the services that are provided as a lifeline for those who take part, which contributes to socialisation and promotes physical activity and a healthy mind—that relates to what the minister said about the need to tackle isolation and loneliness.
This year, D&G Disability Sport has entered a team into the 2020 special Olympics national alpine skiing championships, which will take place in Switzerland from 1 to 8 February. Joan McAlpine did an excellent job of describing the team and the alpine skiing plan. The team is excellent. I look forward to visiting it next year and I wish it every success in the Olympics.
Another event that is worth highlighting is the SkiffieWorlds coastal rowing championships, which were held in Stranraer this summer. The St Andrews team has adapted its St Ayles skiffs, which are now accessible for wheelchair users. Minister Joe FitzPatrick will be joining me for a St Ayles skiff row during Easter recess next year; I will welcome him to Stranraer then.
I have one more fantastic D&G sport to mention. Dumfries and Galloway is home to a slightly more unusual sport, tambourelli, which members may be aware of from a motion that I lodged earlier this year. Tambourelli, a shuttlecock court game, was invented in Newton Stewart in the 1970s and has spread across the world. Small communities of players run active clubs in England, Scotland, Germany, Japan and Sweden. The aim of tambourelli is for the team of four players to stop a shuttlecock landing in the court on its side of the net. The players hit the shuttlecock with a bat that is like a tambour—something that is similar to a tambourine but without the bells. [
Tambourelli is completely adaptable for people with a disability, including wheelchair users. This year, the world championships were held in Newton Stewart and various teams, which included wheelchair users, took part. I hope to join players in March when the season starts.
I welcome this debate and I congratulate the Scottish Government on the steps that it has taken to improve disability sport and promote participation.
This has been an excellent debate, with thoughtful and considered speeches by members from across Parliament. My only disappointment is that the debate was scheduled to take place in this twilight zone slot. I hope that next year the business managers will put their heads together and perhaps schedule another such debate for a more prime-time slot for us all.
The minister set the tone for the debate in a very positive and upbeat speech. I hope that my saying that does not ruin her future political career.
Members including Mary Fee mentioned good timing. As members will know, Tuesday was the international day of people with disabilities. I am sure that the business managers had an eye on that.
We all know the truism that participation in sport is good for health. I have lost count of the many long hours in which we have debated that in the chamber or in the Health and Sport Committee. Members—not least Brian Whittle—have said that. As members know, Mr Whittle is an award-winning athlete in his own right. As I have said before, I suspect that he is faster in one running shoe than I am in two. If people want to know the context of that remark, they should look up—I think—the Moscow Olympics.
As we have heard from many members, 52 per cent of non-disabled people get the recommended level of daily physical activity, compared with only 20 per cent of people who have disabilities. As 21 per cent of Scottish people have a disability, that number is obviously appallingly low.
Several members have mentioned that one in five people in Scotland has a disability. Would not it be better for us to say that 100 per cent of Scots have abilities and that it is up to us to try to match those abilities to pathways?
I strongly agree: I was going to mention Brian Whittle’s speech. It is also important that we avoid labelling. I think that Brian Whittle is making that point.
It is clear from speeches by members across the chamber that we need a more inclusive programme throughout the country in order to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get involved. No one should be left behind.
We have heard about innovative organisations across the country. I echo what many members have said. Scottish Disability Sport does excellent work in ensuring that the philosophy of increased inclusion is translated into actions and practice. Sportscotland is doing sterling work in focusing on several areas of inclusion, including young people from the most disadvantaged areas, women and girls, and—particularly in the context of this debate—young people with disabilities.
A number of members have said that half of people who live in poverty have a disability or are in families with disabled members. It is no secret that poverty and inequality come with many health-restricting issues. Adding to them a lack of physical activity will only make that worse.
We heard from Alison Johnstone about an issue that sportscotland’s research shows. Once disabled people start to take part in sport and physical activity, they are as likely to take part frequently as people without disabilities are. It is clear that that is the first step into access, where there are barriers.
We have all talked about barriers. They can be social or personal, and physical accessibility has been touched on. Transport, poverty and lack of opportunity can frequently be barriers.
I am conscious of the time, so I will touch on only a couple more issues.
Brian Whittle said that sport in general, team working and avoiding labelling are key. I was struck by the issue of sport becoming a bastion of the middle classes, which he mentioned.
There are other issues. Barriers are created by rurality. I know about those from my Highlands and Islands region. Transport costs are a major factor.
Mary Fee mentioned the important issue of empowering people with disabilities, and said that role models should represent people from all backgrounds and of all abilities. She gave the pertinent example of the Riding for the Disabled Association. Riding provides therapy and mobility, and adds to confidence.
Alison Johnstone made the valid point that it is important to develop coaching and to develop people who have disabilities to be coaches. Obviously, we need to do more work in that area: it is certainly vital.
In conclusion, I say that physical activity and social prescribing are vital in helping to manage some disabilities.
We need to translate into action the obvious cross-party consensus for increased engagement in sport by people with disabilities. We need to increase physical and psychological provision and access in order to provide people who have disabilities with more opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity.
You would expect me to end with a quote, Presiding Officer, so, as Nelson Mandela said:
“Sport has the power to change the world ... Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”
I congratulate all members who have taken part in the debate. I also congratulate the Scottish Government and the business managers. This is the third day in a row that we have had mention of disability in the chamber. It is really encouraging that that is happening. We have had contributions from various members. It perhaps demonstrates the slight cultural change that has taken place in society, such that we can talk about disability in sport, in welfare and with regard to employment. I have been really encouraged this week—if slightly overworked.
I also thank all the third sector organisations and other organisations that have provided briefings for today’s debate. I have found them to be very helpful in preparing for the debate.
I wish to pick up on comments that were made by Mary Fee and other members about how we can normalise disability sport, so that we do not talk about “disability sport”, but just about “sport”. I do not often get to talk about sport, which is my great love outwith a few other things. I was very fortunate, having been brought up in a middle-class family, to be able to do lots of different sports. I learned to swim, I went to the Drum riding centre here in Lothian to learn to ride, I learned to ski and I learned to play golf. I put on the public record that I will never in all my life forget that 30-foot putt.
I was fortunate in that I was able to learn all those things, but I was never going to be a Paralympian. I wanted to play sport because I liked playing sport. There is, in our talk about the subject in the chamber, a danger that we highlight just the people who go on to represent us at the Commonwealth games, the European championships, the Olympics or whatever. That is absolutely great, but we do not ask the person in our street who goes to the local bowling club whether they are going to be bowling at the Commonwealth games.
If members have a moment during the election campaign over the next couple of days, I refer them to a really interesting article on the BBC sport website by Hannah Dines, who was a Paralympian cyclist a couple of years ago. She says that she is really concerned that people are inspired by what she does only because she is disabled. She says that she has become “inspiration porn”, which is a really interesting comment.
There is a danger that we see sport as being about people who have achieved to a high degree, rather than just being about going to the park to kick a football around with a few mates, going to the golf club, or whatever. We will have reached the equilibrium that members have mentioned when we simply say, “Oh, I hear Johnny’s off to the squash court,” or “I hear Jeremy’s gone to the tennis club,” and we do not even mention the person’s disability.
If I may intervene on one of my own, I say that I totally agree that what we are considering here is participation across all demographics. Does Jeremy Balfour agree that one of the great ways to get people involved in sport is to see the pathway to aspiration: people have to be able to touch it. Perhaps that is why we highlight the shop window that is international sport. That applies across the board—not just in disability.
I do accept that. I remember—to show my age—when David Wilkie came to our local swimming club and we all got to have our photo taken with him. Undoubtedly, he was a great Scot, from Edinburgh, who had won an Olympic gold medal. That perhaps inspired us to do a bit more swimming.
We need the showcase people, but we should not think that because a person who has a disability plays a bit of sport they will go on to become a Paralympian. That is the point that I am trying to make. We will do that by putting our resources into the grass roots, which is so important. I mention comments by Mary Fee, Alison Johnstone and others about the basics: whether we have the right changing rooms in our sporting facilities, whether people can get there by public transport, or whether there is the financial backing that allows for hire of a sports hall or ice rink. I accept that we need inspirational models, but we also need to make sure that our resources are allocated appropriately to the grass roots, and that we see disability sport as being like any other sport—we enjoy it and we celebrate together.
I thank the Government for the debate. It has been inspiring. I hope that it has raised the topic’s profile again among our political groups, because I think that there is consensus, based on which we can move forward.
I hope that one day everybody who wants to play sport, whatever their ability or lack of ability, will be able to do so and enjoy it.
I am delighted to close today’s debate on disability sport and participation and I thank members across the chamber for their contributions and for the way in which we have conducted the debate. It is not always the case that we agree to have a debate without a motion, but with such a debate, we all have the freedom to contribute without any danger of becoming partisan. That has allowed us to focus on the important issue to people across Scotland of the importance of sport and physical activity and how they can be used intentionally to bring about positive change for disabled people, just as they can for everybody in society.
Like other members, I was particularly encouraged by the ways in which organisations such as Scottish Disability Sport and sportscotland are working together to use the collective power of sport and physical activity to create positive, lasting change for disabled people.
Brian Whittle spoke about the importance and potential of sport and physical activity in the preventative health agenda. He was absolutely right. We know that physical activity is one of the very best things that we can do, not just for our physical health but for our mental health. David Stewart also made the point that that applies to everyone, irrespective of ability or disability.
It is good that, throughout the Scottish Parliament’s existence, the sports portfolio has been part of the health portfolio, and it is particularly good that sport is included in the public health portfolio. As we move to a preventative approach, that is exactly the right place for it to be.
Scottish Disability Sport has been a leader in the area for many years, and it was great to hear so many people speak about the subject. I join others in paying tribute to Janice Eaglesham MBE, whom I had the pleasure of meeting to discuss SDS’s work. I was so impressed, not just by the activity that SDS was delivering but by her personal commitment and drive, which absolutely shone through—members from across the chamber spoke about that. Her loss has been felt deeply across the sports community. The work on disability sports activity that many sports governing bodies are now delivering can be seen as a fitting legacy of the important influence that she had on disability inclusion in sport in Scotland.
The debate has been very consensual, but an issue that has not been tackled has been the
Scottish Disability Sport report that showed that 47 per cent of disabled people feared losing their benefits if they were seen to be physically active. It is a perception, but what can the Scottish Government do to change that perception?
The very important point that Mike Rumbles and other members have made is about the type of society and welfare system that we have.
I certainly hope that, as we develop our social security system in Scotland, people will not have that fear. Some people in the medical profession say that, if we could turn physical activity into a pill, it would be called a miracle cure—I am misquoting, but they use words to that effect. If we have a way of improving people’s health, surely we should encourage them to take that action rather than making them afraid of losing their benefits.
There have been many examples of para-athletes achieving success. Alison Johnstone mentioned the wheelchair curlers who were inspirational in the world championships in March, on home ice in Stirling. I was pleased to visit the national curling academy in Stirling, where I heard at first hand about the developments that Scottish Curling is making to ensure that it is inclusive. I even managed to have a go—I was told that I was not too bad, given that it was the first time that I had tried curling. I tried it both ways: using the stick and on the ground—
I am pleased to confirm that the ice arena in Stirling has very firm ice.
Brian Whittle was right to say that it is important to have examples to encourage people. We all need examples. We are particularly pleased about the work in women’s sport, which is encouraging more girls and women to get involved. It is right that people with disabilities have role models, too.
Mike Rumbles and others were also right to say that we need to focus our efforts not just on the elite end, but on all levels of participation. I was pleased to hear Jackie Baillie, Emma Harper, Jenny Gilruth and others wax lyrical about the fantastic work that is being done in so many parts of Scotland. That was really good.
In his closing speech, Jeremy Balfour raised a really important question that a few folk touched on: how do we normalise disability sports?
It is a fact that one person in five has a disability, and it is a fact that many people with a disability find it more difficult to access sport. We need to consider how we can balance the normalisation of disability sport with challenging those barriers. In an ideal world, we would just say that 100 per cent of people have ability, but we need to recognise that people with disabilities have additional challenges. That is why Jeremy Balfour was quite right to say that it is appropriate for us to have had the discussions that we have had throughout this important week.
There are some extremely good examples of occasions on which disability sport has been put on a pedestal at the highest level. For example, the EDGA Scottish open was contested over the same course as the Scottish open. I would encourage members who have not seen an EDGA golf contest to see one, because this year’s EDGA Scottish open was absolutely thrilling—it was just as thrilling as the Scottish open, which took place after it.
It is important that we recognise the amazing partnerships that exist across Scotland. I want to highlight the partnership between Scottish Disability Sport and the Spirit of 2012 trust. Together, they have been delivering the get out, get active programme, which is focused on getting some of the least active people—disabled and non-disabled alike—moving through fun and inclusive activities.
I see that time is tighter than I had hoped.
Alison Johnstone and David Stewart mentioned coaching. SDS also runs the UK disability inclusion training course, which helps participants with the tools that they need to teach sport to disabled people. That is an extremely important programme that is going from strength to strength.
Fulton MacGregor, Jenny Gilruth and Tom Mason all talked about football. We all know that football and football clubs are a powerful force for good in our communities. As Fulton MacGregor mentioned, the Scottish FA launched the world’s first-ever affiliated national association for para-football earlier this year. Scottish para-football brings together under one umbrella nine organisations governing various styles of para-football in Scotland: the Amputee Football Association Scotland, Football Memories Scotland, Frame Football Scotland, Team United, the Scottish PowerChair Football Association, the Scottish National Cerebral Palsy Football Team, the Scottish Mental Health Football Association, the Scottish Deaf Football Association, and the Scottish PAN Disability Football League. I know that other sports are all working hard to look at how they can follow that fantastic example.
I will quickly touch on a visit that I made to Ireland recently to discuss work that is being done there to challenge some of the barriers that we have talked about today. Disabled people, both active and inactive, in Ireland were asked about their experiences, challenges and needs in relation to their participation in sport and physical activity, and from the vast feedback received the sport inclusion disability charter was developed. It commits sport in Ireland to be open to and understanding of all people with disabilities; to access training for people to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities; to develop and deliver inclusive activities; to review facilities, venues and equipment; to make organisations more accessible; and to promote the inclusive nature of activities in a variety of formats.
I focus on that because, if we are going to tackle barriers, it cannot be left to the Government or SDS. It needs to be done across the board, by bringing together our sports’ governing bodies, which are doing some really good work. It is really important that we work together to encourage all that good work.
I have so many more things I wanted to say and I apologise for not having covered all the points that have been made. It has been a good debate and I thank everyone who contributed to it. This is an area where, as a Parliament, we can work together to make sure that we make real progress for people with disabilities to make sure that they can benefit from sport and physical activity in the same as everyone else.