Disability Sport and Participation

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

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Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

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.