Disability Sport and Participation

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

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Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I start by declaring an interest: I am a coach, including to athletes designated with a disability.

I am obviously delighted to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, given the topic. I associate myself and my party with Christina McKelvie’s comments about Janice Eaglesham. I have some athletes who worked with Janice. I was at her funeral, and the size of the congregation and the outpouring of love for her and Ian tell us everything that we ever needed to know about Janice. As Ms McKelvie will know, if Janice wanted something, there would not be much point in turning her down. You would just accept it early on—it saved you an awful lot of time, because she was getting what she wanted. She was an incredible woman and she is sadly missed by the whole community.

I start by noting that I do not like the name “disability sport”. I ask members to accept that it is just sport. All the same rules and benefits apply, such as positively affecting physical and mental health, inclusivity and education. Those benefits may be felt more acutely in that community, given the increased barriers to participation, but we could be discussing access to sport for any demographic.

Sport allows for the development of self-awareness, discipline, teamworking, resilience, confidence and greater understanding of diet and nutrition and it tackles directly the scourge of isolation. If we are serious about closing the attainment gap, for example, we need to recognise the crucial impact that activities such as sport can have on learning. I have spoken before about the skills that are learned outside the classroom being crucial to learning inside the classroom.

However, the simple truth is that participation still relies far too heavily on the financial status of parents. Sport in general is becoming the bastion of the middle classes and that is starkly obvious in the disability community. Disabled people in Scotland are far less likely than non-disabled people to participate in sport. The overall picture is that people with a disability are less active across the board, have poorer experiences with school physical education and are therefore less likely to participate in sport as adults. Too many school pupils with a disability sit at the side during PE lessons because either the teacher is unsure of how to include them or the facilities to enable their inclusion are not available.

If we throw rurality or deprivation into the equation, there is a further huge drop-off in participation and opportunities to participate, which is felt even more acutely in the disability community, as shown by a few examples. I have spoken many times in this chamber about the powerchair footballers and how they humiliated the parliamentary team—