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Athletes with a learning disability face exclusion at Paralympics

Athletes who have a learning disability are only able to compete for 4% of gold medal chances in the Tokyo Paralympics, Mencap has revealed.

The learning disability charity said just 13 Team GB athletes with a learning disability are competing in Japan at this year’s Paralympics, out of a total of 209 disabled athletes taking part.

More widely, athletes with a learning disability can only compete in three sports, athletics, swimming and table tennis, out of a total of 22, with Team GB athletes with a learning disability competing in just two sports this year. Overall, athletes with a learning disability can compete in only 21 of the 539 events taking place.

London 2012 saw the reintroduction of athletes with a learning disability to the Paralympics following a 12-year ban after the Spanish basketball team were found to have faked having a learning disability in order to compete.

Despite being almost 10 years on from the ban being lifted, athletes with a learning disability have continued to face exclusion.

Since Rio 2016, and London 2012, there has been very little progression. The number of sports that athletes with a learning disability can compete in has remained at just three and Mencap are calling on the International Paralympic Committee to increase opportunities and make the games truly inclusive.

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Edel Harris, chief executive of Mencap, said: ‘Why is it, when we are constantly talking about the need for greater inclusion, that people with a learning disability are still excluded from so much at the Paralympics?

‘It’s been 21 years since athletes with a learning disability were banned from competing in the games – something that has left a terrible legacy, long-lasting exclusion, and meant even fewer opportunities for representation of people with a learning disability on a world stage.

‘Learning disability is still so misunderstood, and seeing more athletes with a learning disability competing at the Paralympics would help to fight stigma in wider society.

‘It is also deeply unfair on the talented athletes with a learning disability who cannot compete alongside their disabled peers. We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that people with a learning disability get the opportunities they deserve.

‘UK sports organisations also need to commit to more funding so that more athletes with a learning disability can compete in the Paralympics.’

Abdul Hameed, who has a learning disability and is a Sports Co-Trainer at Mencap, said: ‘At the moment there aren’t enough opportunities at the Paralympics.

‘It’s absolutely not right. There shouldn’t be any barriers to getting involved in sport if you have a learning disability or not, it’s unfair.

‘There is also not enough representation of people with a learning disability in sports generally. For me, sports has helped me to meet people. It gives me a boost and a sense of belonging.

‘In my role as a co-trainer, I deliver workshops to sports providers to explain what it’s like to have a learning disability, and I also have an eye condition so I talk about that.

‘I think my role helps to change attitudes but there is still a long way to go to include more people with a learning disability in sports, and in the Paralympics.’

Photo Credit – Florian Schmetz

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