If, like me, you a fan of multiple sports, the past two weeks of Winter Olympic sports will have made great viewing. The sporting action, however, will not end on Sunday with the closing ceremony, because the Winter Paralympics are due to start on 7 March. 15 UK Paralympians will be setting their hopes on winning Britain its first ever Gold Winter Paralympic medal.
According to Sport England, 15.5 million people played sport once a week in 2013, 1.67 million of whom have a long term limiting illness or disability, the highest rate recorded. We have come a long way but there is still a lot that can be done to improve access to sports opportunities with 52% of all adults still playing no sport at all.
That is one reason why I was pleased to support the FA’s new Disability Football Development Fund in Parliament. In fact as part of the fund’s launch, I was lucky enough to be able to try my hand, or rather my foot, at blind football with Dan English and Lewis Skyers from the England Blind Football team.
The fund aims to encourage more than 30,000 new participants to disability football, including a £95,000 project in Manchester working with City and United as well as Bury and Oldham Athletic Football Clubs. This new fund will open up access to thousands of people across Greater Manchester and the rest of the UK.
A little closer to home Fletcher Moss Rangers, have recently partnered with Manchester MENCAP to offer community-based football opportunities for those with learning disabilities. Didsbury’s Toc H RFC has recently completed their £1million renovation project, allowing the club not only to introduce “Disability Tag Rugby”, but will also see it act as a sports hub, providing new opportunities for the whole community.
With initiatives like this, I hope it will not be long until everyone, regardless of their background or ability, can enjoy the many benefits that sport has to offer.