25 September 2006

Sign up a Disabled Sportsperson to Play for Celtic

I'm all for disabled sports and as far as possible for them to play alongside able-bodied competitors. I've actually played bowls with a paralympian on my team, against a deaf rink in bowls who I jokingly signed to 'shut up' as they wouldn't stop signing as I was attempting to play. I've also been a guide runner for a blind club mate in athletics. However, what on earth is this latest directive from the Scottish Executive?

Yes sports clubs should be encouraged to integrate as far as possible disabled sportspeople in their clubs, this is easier for some sports than others. Athletics and bowls are the two sports I've been actively involved with disabled athletes and many clubs can quite easily provide provisions for competitors of various disabilities. However, you cannot have a wheel chair athlete run fairly against an able bodied athlete.

Why? Because they have a higher gearing and at equivalent levels of fitness will always go faster. Blind footballers need specialist equipment, ie a ball that makes noise, and therefore to put blind footballers up against seeing players is unfair to the disabled as the sighted players have a slight advantage as light travels faster than sound and can sight the ball without trying to train on its direction.

I love watching paralympian sports, their competitors often adapt sports to suit their level of ability. Wheelchair basketball is as much a non-contact sport as the NBA version. But the competitors who end up getting up ended in their chairs pick themselves off, dust themselves off and carry on playing.

The Sports 21 directive contains the line that clubs should develop an "inclusive selection policy which guarantees all members a game each week". How is this sort of approach going to encourage participation in sport? Yes the directive is right in encouraging participation in disabled sport but not every club is necessarily going to be able to offer a weekly competitive place within its make up on an inclusive policy. Some teams may have to group together to match abilities into a team that can compete together.

As for bowls I'll carry on playing against wheelchair bound, blind and deaf opponents and occasionally lose and occasionally win against them.

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