Athletes who have a learning disability are able to compete for just 4% of gold medal chances at the Tokyo Paralympics, leading to accusations that the sporting event is “unfair”.
Learning disability charity Mencap is calling for greater inclusion at the Paralympics after it found that only 13 team GB athletes with a learning disability will be flying to compete at the games, which take place between August 24 and September 5.
More widely, athletes with a learning disability can only compete in three sports – athletics, swimming and table tennis – out of a total of 22, with Team GB athletes with a learning disability competing in just two sports this year. Overall, athletes with a learning disability can compete in only 21 of the 539 events taking place.
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 being almost 10 years on from the ban being lifted, athletes with a learning disability have continued to face exclusion, says Mencap.
Edel Harris, chief executive of the charity, said: “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.
“It is also deeply unfair on the talented athletes with a learning disability who cannot compete alongside their disabled peers. We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that people with a learning disability get the opportunities they deserve. UK sports organisations also need to commit to more funding so that more athletes with a learning disability can compete in the Paralympics.”
Abdul Hameed, who has a learning disability and is a Sports Co-Trainer at commented, said: “At the moment there aren’t enough opportunities at the Paralympics. It’s absolutely not right. There shouldn’t be any barriers to getting involved in sport if you have a learning disability or not – it’s unfair.
“There is also not enough representation of people with a learning disability in sports generally. For me, sports 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.”
To raise awareness of the issue, the BBC World Service is releasing a new six-part documentary ‘The Fake Paralympians’ tonight. The series – presented by British ex-Paralympic swimmer Dan Pepper who has a learning disability – investigates the Spanish basketball team’s cheating scandal which led to the ban and left a lasting shadow.