In 2013 Panathlon ran 50 sports competitions across the country involving over 3,500 disabled young people with a range of impairments but it became clear that two impairment groups – students with visual impairments, and hearing impaired or deaf children – had fewer opportunities to compete than others.

A pilot scheme was set up last year after consultation with key deaf and VI impairment focussed schools in London and discussions with agencies including British Blind Sport, Deaf Sport UK, National Children’s Deaf Society, National Schools Deaf Sports Association and Interactive.  Panathlon then designed appropriate events to meet the demand for sports identified to grow these participation opportunities.

For visually impaired children, in 2013 Panathlon delivered:

  • multi-sport competition involving 22 visually impaired students
  • two football competitions – one in partnership with Southfields Community College for South London students and one in partnership with Frank Barnes School in Camden for North London students.
  • tennis coaching in Linden Lodge (Wandsworth) and Norwood Green Junior School (Ealing). The tennis coaching also allowed Panathlon to set up a VI tournament for 2014.
  • visually impaired boccia training for teachers, enabling them to understand the rules and equipment. A preliminary competition between Whitmore of Harrow and Linden Lodge of Wandsworth took place, working closely with Boccia England. Panathlon received eight Boccia VI Grids that will be placed in schools around London that have visually impaired or blind students. Before the competition, teachers and students learned how to use the equipment, on which various pins are plotted to help the students understand the court in front of them clearly.
Deaf tennis
Coaching Tennis at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children

In 2014, Panathlon is building on last year’s work, providing the following for some 30 visually impaired children:

  • six tennis coaching days
  • a visually impaired football competition
  • two visually impaired boccia competitions.
  • VI cricket coaching and a tournament in-conjunction with Middlesex Cricket Board
  • the opportunity for visually impaired students at Linden Lodge to work with guide runners from La Swap VI form College and then participate in the Westminster Mile.

Janine Edwards, a teacher at Whitmore High School, says: “Using the VI boccia grid was a real highlight for me and the students. It’s a fantastic piece of equipment and I look forward to working on it with the students over the coming months. It’s obviously so important to involve our visually impaired students who can sometimes struggle to take part in mainstream activity.

As far as deaf activity is concerned, in 2013 Panathlon delivered:

  • Table Tennis, Tennis, Badminton, Athletics, Football, and Boccia, all of which were competition based. 178 deaf students took part in various Panathlon competitions and activities, while a further 16 deaf students completed a Junior Footballs Leaders Award from Oak Lodge School.
  • students from Oak Lodge gained Boccia Young officials awards and refereed at the Panathlon London Deaf Schools Boccia competition
  • tennis coaching for 12 deaf students at the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children.
  • training in boccia for 13 deaf teachers, who will continue to coach the game inside School
Daef swim 2
Deaf swimmers in Northolt, NW London

In 2014 Panathlon is increasing the amount of activity, including:

  • doubling the amount of deaf sporting activity, delivering Swimming, Boccia, Indoor Athletics, Football and a Primary Panathlon, which is an eight-activity competition involving Messi Football Skills, Flight Path, New Age Kurling, Precision Beanbag, Table Cricket, Volleybat, Parachute Popcorn and Beachball Boccia. Deaf students will again have the opportunity to take part in all these sports in a competition format and officiating.
  • delivery of tennis coaching to six deaf schools, linking to the National Deaf Tennis pathway.
  • deaf cricket coaching and a tournament in conjunction with the Middlesex Cricket Board

Reports from Frank Barnes School suggest Panathlon is providing real benefits, encouraging children to learn and develop independent sport skills within a safe and friendly environment, and giving children the chance to enjoy the experience of sport as it should be.

Martine Monksfield from Blanche Neville School has similar feedback. She says: “Since the majority of deaf children are mainstreamed, there is little opportunity for them to discover deaf sports like the Deaf Olympics, GB Deaf swimming, GB Tennis etc, and Panathlon is instrumental in being able to deliver this awareness and enable deaf children to participate in deaf sports with each other.

VI Boccia
Visually Impaired Boccia players, using their new grids

They are not always able to understand or follow instructions or strategies, nor feel comfortable to participate using the best of their ability in mainstream sport so they have a specific activity and competition with their peers, this has given them confidence now to also use in mainstream sport because they understand it better and are able to perform to the best of their ability (so much that we found we had to deal with competitive behaviour and introduce sportsmanship!)

Meanwhile, Vhaire Stewart, a teacher at Norwood Green Junior School, says: “The children really enjoy the lessons and it’s good for us to see their skills develop from one session to the next. We’d love to have more sessions in the future and we’ll be sure to attend the competition next summer!

It is clear that demand has outstripped supply, shown by the fact that schools outside the London region have expressed interest in joining in the competition calendar due to a lack of opportunities for their schools. Through Panathlon, the resurrection of the impairment school sport for the Deaf and VI students has created once more a community environment of learning through sport and has given these children a real 2012 Games legacy.

Catering for these niche groups has proved beyond doubt that Panathlon is benefitting specific impairment groups and the work is having a major impact.

Thanks must go to various organisations that have helped fund this area of work over the last two years including; the Jack Petchey Foundation, The Ovingdean Hall Foundation, The Birkdale Trust, Dan Maskell Tennis Foundation and Blatchington Court.