Disability Sport and Participation

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

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Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Sport should be for everyone, because, as the minister mentioned in her opening speech, it has the potential to change lives.

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.

The Scottish Government’s “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” delivery plan, which was published in 2016, notes three key actions on sport. First, as Alison Johnstone mentioned:

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.