A record 52,476 young people participated in Panathlon sporting competitions in 2021/22 as our face-to-face events made a triumphant return to school calendars to blend with our in-school virtual programme.
Last academic year, an incredible 33,197 pupils with disabilities and special needs took part in our face-to-face competitions across England and Wales, supported by 5,013 specially trained Young Leaders.
Our external Panathlon competitions had been wiped out the previous academic year by Covid-19. Although the pandemic continued to cause complications this year, especially when restrictions returned in January, we still managed to stage the highest number of competitions in our charity’s 25-year history.
Simultaneously, we continued our Virtual Programme, which was conceived at the start of the pandemic to allow schools to host internal competitions safely on-site for SEND pupils. Schools loved it so much they continued to engage after Covid restrictions were relaxed, and its visibility and impact grew, with 13,305 pupils participating, led by 961 Young Leaders, in 2021/22.
In total, 2,078 schools across England and Wales took part in Panathlon activity across 758 events and activities in and out of schools. This all took place across 42 English counties and seven unitary areas in Wales.
Our blended offer of face-to-face and ‘virtual’ sporting activity offers schools choice in what, where and when they can participate, making our provision even more accessible to pupils who needed it most.
Additionally, our blended approach gives pupils the opportunity to practise activities first in school before then transferring those newly-honed skills into a competitive environment against other schools at our face-to-face competitions (this has been particularly evident in our primary-age and swimming programmes).
The ever-changing Covid-19 regulations and concern over pupils’ health and wellbeing meant we had to adapt our delivery again from 2020/21 to create an environment where schools could feel comfortable mixing with others. We incorporated social distancing by reducing numbers, creating extra space, delivering outside or making innovative format changes, such as opposing teams throwing from either end of the boccia court.
We also launched our Discovery swimming gala format to help address the decline in swimming participation during Covid. These galas gave pupils an accessible and positive experience and rebuilt water confidence, which had become a barrier to participation along with draining of school pools, time, expense and lack of lesson time in the dwindling number of local authority facilities.
School staff and pupils were ecstatic to return to our traditional competitions including primary, secondary, Xtend, swimming, football (including girls’ football), boccia, ten-pin bowling and new-age kurling.
Panathlon activity grew exponentially in many areas during the year including Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Berkshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Somerset, Leicestershire and Greater Manchester.
In total, we had 29 regional (multi-county) finals with schools relishing our competitive pathway and showing their dedication by travelling hundreds of miles to participate.
One pupil in Peterborough encapsulated the mood of many competitors across this year’s events. He said: “Lockdown felt like being trapped in a cage, but today feels like the cage door has opened!”
Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “To have broken our all-time participation records during the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic period is hugely satisfying for everyone at the charity who has worked so hard throughout it.
“For many school staff and pupils, Panathlon competitions have been their first opportunity to leave the school gates for nearly two years. The benefits go way beyond mere sporting provision, boosting mental and physical health, self-confidence, inclusion and social skills and having a ripple effect across academic attainment.
“We followed the mantra of meeting all the children’s needs, whether they were at their own school or at one of our external events.
“We are proud of our agility in adapting to yet more challenging circumstances throughout this academic year.”
Panathlon would like to thank our funders for their continued support including St James’s Place Charitable Foundation, Jack Petchey Foundation, Pentland Brands, Redevco, Bluebay Asset Management, EQ Investors, Peter Cundill Foundation, Woodland Group, Ovingdean Foundation and the many financial supporters we have at local level, as well as School Games Organisers who have helped create local delivery opportunities.