More people with disabilities in Wales are participating in sport than ever before, according to new data. Disability Sport Wales (DSW) attributes the growth in participants to Grassroots Investment and the Paralympic legacy.
The next step is to allow disabled people to take part in mainstream sport.
The new figures were released just as 600 people participated in Cardiff’s 10th annual Wheelchair Sport Spectacular.
Jon Morgan, executive of DSW, was pleased with the increased figures, which had been on the rise over the last decade.
While the numbers were impressive, Morgan says more needs to be done to allow disabled athletes to participate in mainstream sport. The DSW executive says the biggest challenge in sports is to “be more inclusive,” so the disabled can participate in “mainstream clubs.”
Mainstream clubs are now being offered the support and education for this to happen, Morgan says.
The move would allow disabled people to walk up to any local club and participate in the sport they love, whether they live in an urban or rural area.
Progress is being made, according to Morgan. The Tata Steel sailing club currently has 26 disabled members. There are 14 integrated members in the Dolphins water polo club, and 20 integrated members taking part in the Maldwyn Dragons gymnastics club.
Disabled sportspeople are also taking part in other sports as well. The St. Patrick’s karate club in Cardiff has 35 disabled members, while the Gelli Galed bowling club currently has 43 integrated members.
“Things are moving the right way,” says Morgan.
Through a government-funded program in Wales, disability sport development officers were placed in 22 local authorities in 2000.
John Griffiths, Sports Minister, says the Welsh government acknowledges the “valuable contribution” physical activity and sports offers to a person’s overall health and well-being. Griffiths expressed his hope that that the number of integrated participation opportunities and disability sports clubs continues to rise.
Laura McAllister, chair of Sports Wales, said the increased number of participants is expected after the Paralympics and Olympics, but Wales had been working for more than 10 years to build the infrastructure to reach this point.
McAllister said she is often asked about Wales’s record number of players in disability sport when she travels to different countries. She attributes the rising number of players to the country’s investment at the grassroots to allow all people, no matter their disability, to play sport.
The effort seems to be paying off, with many Welsh athletes setting world records at the Paralympics and in other disabled sports competitions.
In 2002, there were 30 disability sports clubs in Wales. That number swelled to 331 by 2012. Membership in disabled sports clubs jumped 10%, and participation numbers are up to over one million from 927,000 over the last year. The number of coaches is on the rise, too, with numbers jumping from 1,621 to 1,766 in 2012. Since the Paralympics and Olympics, an additional 160 people have volunteered.
Morgan says future major events, like the championships in Swansea in 2014, will help Welsh disabled athletes “inspire the nation,” much like they did in 2012.