Disability Sport and Participation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

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.