Panathlon celebrated its 20th anniversary last night at an event attended by more than 200 people who contributed to its mission to bring competitive sport to young people with disabilities.
MP Kate Hoey, the Mayor of London’s Commissioner for Sport, hosted the celebration at London’s City Hall, with five Paralympians also in attendance.
Ms Hoey said: “I’m sure everyone will agree with me when I say there is no better illustration of the power of sport than a Panathlon event.
“Over the past two decades Panathlon has opened up access to sporting competitions for tens of thousands of severely disabled young people, for whom such opportunities rarely exist.
“And it’s not just about sporting achievement; it’s about developing young people through sport to fulfil their potential in society. I am absolutely delighted to be here this evening to celebrate this landmark achievement and to toast their continued success.”
2015 was a record-breaking year for Panathlon, with more than 7,500 children from over 450 schools participating in multi-sport competitions like a ‘mini-Paralympics’ across England.
Last night their achievements were saluted by athletes from the pinnacle of the Paralympic discipline – triple swimming medallist Liz Johnson; Steve Brown, Great Britain’s wheelchair rugby captain at the London 2012 Games; wheelchair basketball players Helen Turner and Louise Sugden; and 800m gold medallist Danny Crates.
Brown said: “The greatest reward of my involvement with Panathlon is watching young people grow in confidence and get better at who they are, whether it be at sport or life skills. Panathlon gives them the courage and confidence to make that happen.”
Johnson has attended many events and said she was “very proud” to be a Panathlon ambassador. She said: “I think every child should have the opportunity to get involved. Panathlon makes that happen for thousands of disabled youngsters every year and long may it continue to do so. Here’s to the next 20 years!”
The celebrations were especially timely given the Government’s recent announcement of a new sporting strategy, which will focus on increasing participation amongst schoolchildren. Over the last five years Panathlon has grown from five counties to 27 now and aims to be truly nationwide by 2020.
Georgina Hart 15 from Dagenham (pictured right with Liz Johnson) who has cerebral palsy, says Panathlon was a catalyst for her becoming involved in many more activities and clubs. “It gives me confidence in life,” she added.
Panathlon CEO Ashley Iceton said: “Over the past 20 years I have seen the Panathlon Challenge grow from an idea and concept to where we are today – a national organisation that influences thousands of lives.I am proud of what we have created and hope we can continue to have a positive influence on the lives of young people for many years to come.
We could have not done this without the support of all the organisations that have supported us over the last 20 years. Thank you to all of them!”