Disability Sport and Participation

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

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.