With just 13 athletes with learning disabilities competing for Team GB in this year’s Paralympics (out of the 209 disabled athletes taking part), Mencap are calling for greater inclusion and representation of people with learning disabilities in major sporting events.
It is now approaching 10 years since learning disabled athletes were re-introduced to the games after members of the Spanish basketball team faked having a learning disability in order to compete.
Despite nearly a decade passing, Mencap say that little progress has been made and people with learning disabilities continue to face exclusion from the majority of sports.
Athletes who have a learning disability are only able to compete for 4% of gold medal chances in this year’s games in Tokyo and can only participate in three out of 22 sports – athletics, swimming and table tennis.
Mencap are now concerned about the lack of improvement made since London 2012 and Rio 2016, with Team GB athletes with learning disabilities competing in just two sports this year.
The International Paralympic Committee must create more opportunities for people with learning disabilities
As a result, the charity is now calling on the International Paralympic Committee to increase opportunities and make the games truly inclusive, improving disability representation and fighting stigma.
Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, says it is “deeply unfair” that talented athletes with learning disabilities are unable to compete alongside their disabled peers.
“Why is it - when we are constantly talking about the need for greater inclusion – that people with a learning disability are still excluded from so much at the Paralympics?
“It’s been 21 years since athletes with a learning disability were banned from competing in the games - something that has left a terrible legacy, long-lasting exclusion, and meant even fewer opportunities for representation of people with a learning disability on a world stage. Learning disability is still so misunderstood, and seeing more athletes with a learning disability competing at the Paralympics would help to fight stigma in wider society,” she said.
New BBC documentary series aims to draw attention to the issue
Sports Co-Trainer, Abdul Hameed, who has a learning disability, argues that there shouldn’t be any barriers in the way of anyone getting involved with sport.
She said: “There is not enough representation of people with a learning disability in sports generally. For me, sport has helped me to meet people. It gives me a boost and a sense of belonging. In my role as a co-trainer, I deliver workshops to sports providers to explain what it’s like to have a learning disability, and I also have an eye condition so I talk about that. I think my role helps to change attitudes but there is still a long way to go to include more people with a learning disability in sports, and in the Paralympics.”
A six-part BBC documentary series, The Fake Paralympians, aims to draw attention to this issue, investigating the Spanish basketball team’s cheating scandal which led to the ban, leaving a lasting shadow.
The series begins today (17th August) and is presented by British ex-Paralympic swimmer Dan Pepper who has a learning disability. You can listen to the first episode here.