Disability Sport and Participation

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

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Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

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.