Disability Sport and Participation

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

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Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I am pleased to confirm that the ice arena in Stirling has very firm ice.

There are many other fantastic examples of people who have been real advocates for disability sports, including Neil Fachie in cycling and Toni Shaw in swimming.

Brian Whittle was right to say that it is important to have examples to encourage people. We all need examples. We are particularly pleased about the work in women’s sport, which is encouraging more girls and women to get involved. It is right that people with disabilities have role models, too.

Mike Rumbles and others were also right to say that we need to focus our efforts not just on the elite end, but on all levels of participation. I was pleased to hear Jackie Baillie, Emma Harper, Jenny Gilruth and others wax lyrical about the fantastic work that is being done in so many parts of Scotland. That was really good.

In his closing speech, Jeremy Balfour raised a really important question that a few folk touched on: how do we normalise disability sports?

It is a fact that one person in five has a disability, and it is a fact that many people with a disability find it more difficult to access sport. We need to consider how we can balance the normalisation of disability sport with challenging those barriers. In an ideal world, we would just say that 100 per cent of people have ability, but we need to recognise that people with disabilities have additional challenges. That is why Jeremy Balfour was quite right to say that it is appropriate for us to have had the discussions that we have had throughout this important week.

There are some extremely good examples of occasions on which disability sport has been put on a pedestal at the highest level. For example, the EDGA Scottish open was contested over the same course as the Scottish open. I would encourage members who have not seen an EDGA golf contest to see one, because this year’s EDGA Scottish open was absolutely thrilling—it was just as thrilling as the Scottish open, which took place after it.

It is important that we recognise the amazing partnerships that exist across Scotland. I want to highlight the partnership between Scottish Disability Sport and the Spirit of 2012 trust. Together, they have been delivering the get out, get active programme, which is focused on getting some of the least active people—disabled and non-disabled alike—moving through fun and inclusive activities.

I see that time is tighter than I had hoped.

Alison Johnstone and David Stewart mentioned coaching. SDS also runs the UK disability inclusion training course, which helps participants with the tools that they need to teach sport to disabled people. That is an extremely important programme that is going from strength to strength.

Fulton MacGregor, Jenny Gilruth and Tom Mason all talked about football. We all know that football and football clubs are a powerful force for good in our communities. As Fulton MacGregor mentioned, the Scottish FA launched the world’s first-ever affiliated national association for para-football earlier this year. Scottish para-football brings together under one umbrella nine organisations governing various styles of para-football in Scotland: the Amputee Football Association Scotland, Football Memories Scotland, Frame Football Scotland, Team United, the Scottish PowerChair Football Association, the Scottish National Cerebral Palsy Football Team, the Scottish Mental Health Football Association, the Scottish Deaf Football Association, and the Scottish PAN Disability Football League. I know that other sports are all working hard to look at how they can follow that fantastic example.

I will quickly touch on a visit that I made to Ireland recently to discuss work that is being done there to challenge some of the barriers that we have talked about today. Disabled people, both active and inactive, in Ireland were asked about their experiences, challenges and needs in relation to their participation in sport and physical activity, and from the vast feedback received the sport inclusion disability charter was developed. It commits sport in Ireland to be open to and understanding of all people with disabilities; to access training for people to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities; to develop and deliver inclusive activities; to review facilities, venues and equipment; to make organisations more accessible; and to promote the inclusive nature of activities in a variety of formats.

I focus on that because, if we are going to tackle barriers, it cannot be left to the Government or SDS. It needs to be done across the board, by bringing together our sports’ governing bodies, which are doing some really good work. It is really important that we work together to encourage all that good work.

I have so many more things I wanted to say and I apologise for not having covered all the points that have been made. It has been a good debate and I thank everyone who contributed to it. This is an area where, as a Parliament, we can work together to make sure that we make real progress for people with disabilities to make sure that they can benefit from sport and physical activity in the same as everyone else.