Exclusive: Disabled sport in crisis as numbers of participants drop by ten per cent since London 2012

 Ben Coles  15 AUGUST 2018


The number of disabled people participating in sport and weekly exercise has dropped by an astonishing 10 per cent since the highly successful 2012 Paralympics, the Daily Telegraph can reveal.

Campaigners have expressed concern over the Sport England figures, which show the number of disabled people participating in weekly exercise has fallen by 169,700 between the London Games and the end of 2016, by an average of 56,567 people per year.

The Paralympics were widely believed to have changed perceptions in the mainstream towards sport involving athletes with disabilities, but the figures suggest that there has been little of a legacy effect.

“There is no simple answer to increase the number of disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity. It’s crucial we talk about participation levels and use the latest data as a starting point to work from – it’s a sign of what more needs to be done,” believes Baroness Grey-Thompson, the multiple Paralympic champion.

“The barriers range from accessibility to staff training, but the good news is the physical activity sector is committed to delivering inclusive services for all. With ukactive, the not-for-profit body comprised of members and partners from across the UK active lifestyle sector, we are working with Sport England on the ‘Everyone Can’ project to create a cultural shift and change perceptions around disabled people’s participation in physical activity.”

Sport England have since invested £20.3 million of National Lottery and Exchequer funding into recent programmes to arrest the decline and to get more disabled people playing sport, including the training of more than 10,000 coaches, leaders and parents to develop the skills to include disabled people in sporting activity.

Hannah Cockroft won gold at London 2012 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Seven out of 10 disabled people want to be more active according to the Activity Alliance, previously known as the English Federation of Disability Sport, but the correct facilities are required.

One of Sport England’s new programmes to provide those facilities for disabled people includes ‘Parkride’, set up at a cost of just over £343,000 and launched in June this year, which provides families with access to a range of Boris-bike style adapted bicycles for free in Birmingham.

“The Paralympic Games were an excellent showcase for sport. But the numbers of disabled people getting active have been steadily declining since 2012 – and are only just starting to stabilise,” said Adam Blaze, Sport England Lead for Disability. “It shows that the barriers people face, such as a lack of opportunity or a fear of judgement, aren’t going to change overnight.

“Many leisure operators and sports clubs want to be accessible to all, but some aren’t sure about cost implications or what to provide. Sport England are working closely with the sport sector and disability organisations to help address this.

“We’ve made significant investment to provide more accessible facilities, projects and activities. It’s also important disabled people see themselves represented in the sports industry, which is why we’re funding Aspire’s award-winning Instructability programme which will enable disabled people to develop a career in the fitness industry.”

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