A petition has been launched that calls for the International Paralympic Committee to address the severe inequalities faced by athletes with a learning disability, who are excluded from the vast majority of sports at the upcoming Rio games.
Learning disability charity Mencap is behind the petition, noting that just 3 out of 23 sports at the Paralympics are open to athletes with a learning disability – athletics, swimming and table tennis. In those 3 sports there are just 9 events – 4 in athletics, 1 in table tennis and 4 in swimming – meaning athletes with a learning disability can only compete for 4% of medal chances.
Seven athletes with a learning disability have been selected for this year’s GB Paralympic team out of 264, a representation of just 3%, and they will only compete in swimming events. In London 2012, 9 athletes with a learning disability competed across 3 sports. Mencap says this drop in already tiny numbers indicates a lack of opportunity for athletes in the UK and internationally, as a result of a lack of funding to support athletes with a learning disability to compete at elite levels.
London 2012 saw the reintroduction of athletes with a learning disability to the Paralympics following a 12-year ban after the Spanish basketball team were found to have faked having a learning disability in order to compete. Despite the ban being lifted, athletes with a learning disability still face heavy restrictions towards inclusion at the Paralympics. Mencap are calling for this to change.
Stephanie Moore, a 100m and 200m runner with a learning disability who is unable to compete in the Paralympics because her discipline is not open to her, has launched an online petition calling for more sports and events to be available for athletes with a learning disability at the Paralympics and in top level sport.
“Competing at the Paralympics has always been a goal of mine, and it would mean the absolute world,” she said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing to not be able to compete in the 100m and 200m. I’ve attempted to train for the 400m so I could try and compete at the Paralympics, but it’s a lot harder. It’s not just the racing, it’s the training as well, the sessions are a lot harder and trying to adjust to the different stages within the 400m.
“I’d love to see more inclusion at the Paralympics, it’d be great for more athletes with a learning disability to be able to compete in more sports. People think they should be able to ‘see your disability’ and because a learning disability is a ‘hidden’ disability, that’s why more sports are not allowed. Athletes with a learning disability should have more opportunities, and should be included more.”
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, added: “It is unacceptable, that despite dedicating their lives to training, athletes with a learning disability have such little opportunity to be recognised for their talents and are unable to achieve their dream of competing in the Paralympics alongside their disabled peers.
“It is wholly unfair that since the ban in 2000 a shadow has been cast over athletes with a learning disability. Not only do we need to see more opportunities available at the Paralympics, but this inequality needs to be addressed in the UK as well. The drop in numbers of athletes with a learning disability selected for Team GB highlights a lack of recognition of skills and a lack of support to ensure athletes with a learning disability are able to reach qualifying standards.
“We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that athletes who have a learning disability no longer have such limited opportunities to compete on the world stage. It is now also key that UK sports organisations ensure the right levels of funding and resources are available so that more athletes with a learning disability are supported to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in a larger number of sports.”