Lack of grassroots opportunities for aspiring para athletes


A lack of suitable local opportunities could be stifling the UK’s grassroots parasport talent, research by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire has found.

Olivia Breen running on a race track
  • Less than 1% of clubs sourced through Parasport.org.uk offered relevant opportunities to disabled people, despite athletics accounting for more than a quarter (27%) of the 98 gold medals obtained by Team GB at the last two Paralympic games.
  • Analysis by postcodes also showed aspiring athletes would have to travel an average of approximately 40 miles to the nearest athletics club listed on Parasport.org. In some areas the distance was around 100 miles.
  • Equestrian sports are the most accessible with 16% of parasport clubs offering activities for disabled children and adults.

Analysis using Parasport.org.uk and postcode sample areas* found wide gaps in the availability of suitable clubs or opportunities for disabled people in sports where Great Britain have achieved gold medal success since (and including) London 2012.

Less than 1% had specialised para-athletics clubs leaving aspiring athletes to face the prospect of travelling up to 100 miles to their nearest club in some cases. 

There is also a regional skew towards London, where there are three, on average, within ten miles of each postcode.  This drops to one club every five postcode regions outside of the capital. 

This is especially surprising considering the success of British athletes on the international stage. At the Paralympics in London (2012) and Rio (2016) Team GB won a total of 98 gold medals in Athletics, second only to China. 

Equestrian Clubs** are the most prevalent providers of parasport opportunities in the UK.  Almost 500 of the 3149 clubs listed on the Parasport.org relate to equestrian sports.

Olivia Breen is Leonard Cheshire’s Global Ambassador for Sport and co-developed an introductory toolkit to stay active at home, called #ShowMeYouCan. She will represent Great Britain in next week’s Paralympics and won bronze at London 2012 in T38 100m and long jump.  She recently highlighted what a huge impact athletic training had on her life, starting her sporting career at a mixed abilities club, before being spotted for professional development. 

“It’s disappointing there’s a lack of dedicated para-athletics clubs around. I started at City of Portsmouth Athletics Club, which provides opportunities for disabled and non- disabled athletes. There, I was able to develop my skills and compete. It is important for clubs that can offer para-sport opportunities to promote this more and get them listed.  The Paralympics will again cast a light on disabled sport, and young disabled people need to feel they can join in, no matter where they live.”

There are several reasons why such inconsistencies might exist within the delivery of para-athletics, including costs and a need for increased promotion.  Specialised equipment can be hard to access for those with disabilities. England Athletics highlights that second-hand racing chairs easily cost over a thousand pounds. New entry level chairs, like the Motivation Flying Start cost £735.00, excluding VAT. Custom built professional racing chairs cost over £2000. 

Sophie Morgan is Leonard Cheshire’s Global Ambassador for Women and Education and will be part of Channel Four’s presenting team in Tokyo:

“Though many charities generously offer funding grants for individuals and clubs, these prices are still daunting. This barrier could be broken down with an increase in para-athletics funding, through grants, sponsorships, or direct donations. 
          
“The clubs offered on the parasport site are specifically aimed at disabled athletes, however many of the UK’s Para-athletics stars originally went to mixed ability clubs.”

Leonard Cheshire’s award-winning ‘Can Do’ scheme offers young disabled people the opportunity to have new experiences, acquire skills and try out sports. CEO Ruth Owen commented:

“Through our extensive work within the disabled community, we have been able to see what a huge impact accessible clubs, sports and other life opportunities can have. 

“Charities like Leonard Cheshire can play their part in providing and promoting the opportunities out there. We’d also urge clubs to do so on the parasport website.  It’s a vital resource for young disabled athletes inspired by the Paralympics.”  

If a club offers any opportunities for disabled athletes, they can register on the parasport site, which is an accessible platform. Disability friendly sporting events can also be promoted on the Activity Alliance site. 


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Notes to editors

*Choosing the sample locations

Postcode selection was proportional to population in each region. A region with a higher percentage of the UK population had a larger number of postcodes selected. These numbers were determined by proportionally matching percentage and total postcodes. 

Postcode numbers varied from 1-5 from each region.

These values were then entered into a random number generator. The generator was run until a series of different integers were selected, with no repeats. 

For example, the South-East has 13.8% of the UK population, which would proportionally equal 17/124 postcodes. Divided, this became a delegated 5 postcodes from the region. There are 18 postcodes in the region. So, numbers 1-18 were entered into the random generator, and it was run until 5 distinct values were shown. These were 1,3,6, 12 & 17. Which translated to BN, CR, GU, RG, and TN.

The total number of postcodes was 38, offering a representative sample of the UK and over 30% of the 121 geographic postcode areas in use in the UK based on density of the population.

Full list of postcodes available on request

**Equestrian Research

Equestrian stats are overall across the whole country and include both the clubs included in our own sample – 8% of 2321 were equestrian - and the complete picture outside our sample.  The UK total is therefore, 15% of 3149 clubs. 

Gathering the data

Using the Parasport website, each postcode was entered in the form of ##1 or equivalent to assign a central location. All clubs within a 10mile radius were shown. There may have been repeats, but the list provided by the search remained unedited.

From this list, total number of clubs were recorded, then broken down into different sports relevant to gold medal medals won in Paralympic competition since (and including) London 2012. 

Within each region, the mean was found to show how many clubs, on average were available in each postcode. 

As well as this, percentage values of each sport across the UK were recorded, e.g., out of 2321 recorded clubs, 25 were table tennis, which is equal to 1.08%. 

This data was then compared to gold medal wins at the Paralympics, 2012 and 2016, e.g., 1 of the 98 gold medals won in these years was in table tennis, or 1.02%. Therefore, availability of para-table tennis opportunities is proportional.