Wales Disability Sport Numbers Swell with Record Number of Players

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.

Disability Football with the Welsh Football Trust

Football is integrated into the lives of young children. The world’s most played sport, everyone should have a chance to play football even if they have a disability. The Welsh Football Trust has enabled countless players with all levels of disability be part of something bigger – a squad of players.

What is Disability Football?

Disability football in Wales was much different 15 years ago than it was today. Players with disabilities were often left in unorganized competitions and were not able to join fully inclusive programs in an effort to hone their skills.

It was a playing field that was not level.

This all changed in 2004. In 2004, there was:

  • No coach education programs to train the disabled
  • No player pathways to hone their skills and advance their skills
  • No structured programs in clubs or schools

There were only four disability teams in all of Wales at this time.

And this had to change. Disability football is the same as football at any level, but it’s geared towards those players that have disabilities that stop them from being able to play on a standard team.

Disability football allows for a better structure, coaching, and options for disabled players to be able to excel in football.

What Regional and National Squads Are Included?

Disabilities come in all types. Regional and national squads are formed to allow players to excel despite their disabilities. There are two main regional squad types:

  • Learning Disability (LD)
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP)

These players are able to play in South and North Wales and are nominated to their respective teams. Players will be able to enter into programs to:

  • Provide the right coaching, with special training for disabled players
  • Develop the skills of the most talented players for the LD and CP national squads

Welsh LD National Squad

The Welsh LD national squad included 22 players from across the country ages 16 to 26. The players are able to join contact camps throughout the year. International play against Northern Ireland pushed the squad into the mainstream in November 2012.

Welsh Deaf Futsal Squads

The squad was formed in July 2013 and marked the first time the squad played together. The team was able to train and enter camps in an effort to prepare for the European Deaf Sports Organization championship qualifiers.

Player pathways are available to help players with disabilities overcome their hardships and excel.

History Behind the Welsh Football Trust

The Welsh Football Trust started to change the landscape of football for disabled players between 2005 and 2010. The goal was to create a level playing field for players, and this was accomplished through a grassroots structure.

The results were:

  • 532 registered players
  • 24 community clubs
  • 2 regional festival leagues
  • An annual competition; national and regional school finals
  • Disability coach education course

And there were three specific impairment playing opportunities founded.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Trust had an uptick of 42% players, and three regional PAN disability leagues were formed with 30 clubs in total. The FAW coaching deaf footballers course was also created to help deaf players excel on the field through proper coaching techniques.

The National Deaf Futsal Cup was also created.

The Welsh Football Trust has goals to reach “insport” accreditation, promote performance programs, and register 6% of the disabled population in football.