Panathlon’s work in providing sporting opportunities for disabled young people should be rolled out throughout the country, according to the head of the strategic lead for disabled people in sport and physical activity in England.
Barry Horne, Chief Executive of the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), said: “In terms of offer for disabled children, Panathlon is the strongest example of how to run an event that is exciting, enjoyable and challenging but brings wide benefits as well as the activity.
“It’s a model that’s needed throughout the country, there’s no doubt.”
His comments come in a week that a survey suggested that the increased media coverage of Paralympic sport has not helped widen access to opportunities for regular exercise for disabled people in Britain.
The survey of 2,100 people by online pollsters Censuswide found that 69% of people with a disability think they face barriers accessing fitness and leisure facilities, and more than 80% of people with disabilities still feel prejudice when participating in sport and leisure. The survey was commissioned by Parallel London, which is staging a mass-participation, disability-led running event in London later this year.
The Panathlon Challenge has been steadily working to introduce competitive sport for young disadvantaged and disabled people across England. It has grown from staging multi-sport events in five counties five years ago to 27 over the last five years and is keen to expand further.
Panathlon welcomed the Government’s announcement at the end of last year that it wants to involve more people in sport and fitness, especially at grassroots level, and from the age of five. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch is asking Sport England, which invests National Lottery and Government funding into promoting sport, to back successful projects run by charities and organisations, as well as national governing bodies.
Ashley Iceton, Chief Executive of the Panathlon Foundation, said: “At Panathlon we are pleased to see the growing focus on this issue. The success of our Paralympians serves as a huge inspiration to our competitors, but, for charities like ourselves, ultimately it’s about providing accessible competition to as many disabled people as possible.
“More than 7,500 young people participated in our competitions in 2015 – but we want to do so much more. That’s why we’re really excited by the prospect of the Government, and Sport England, giving a greater focus to supporting charities and other deliverers through their new sporting strategy.”
Nick Bitel, Chair of Sport England, praised Panathlon for its “fantastic work” with young disabled competitors.
He added: “One of the things Panathlon does so well is to deliver their programme of sport with people and not to them. That’s a big challenge; too many sports say ‘We’ve got the solution and this is what we’re going to do’.
“I think the type of programme Panathlon delivers is needed. It clearly works, so why shouldn’t there be an ambition to deliver that programme in more places?”
Speaking at Panathlon’s 20th anniversary celebration earlier this week, Mr Bitel added: “Sport is also about changing people’s health and mental well-being, and we’ve heard examples today about how Panathlon is improving people’s personal and societal development. There is a need for sport to be used for outcomes rather than sport itself, and Panathlon absolutely fits this bill.”
Horne added: “If you look across that spectrum (of multiple disability), there has to be a massive range of provision. The vast majority of disabled people could and should take part in physical activity. There’s a lot of mainstream offer (but) what they’re trying to make more accessible for disabled people… the infinite variety on offer, Panathlon is really strong.
“Panathlon don’t try to do everything for everyone – it’s a dedicated, adaptive environment. What they do best is event-based with a range of opportunities… We need a lot more of that across the country.
“In terms of need for these kind of events, there’s no one out there doing it and doing it as well as Panathlon.”
Panathlon is an Associate Member of the EFDS.