Tokyo Paralympics: Q&A with Activity Alliance CEO Barry Horne

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From incredible feats to personal bravery, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go down as a Games to remember and Britain’s extraordinary summer of sport looks set to continue.

Today, the nation’s 227-strong team of Paralympians will gather at Tokyo’s National Stadium to mark the launch of the 16th Summer Paralympic Games.

The Alliance sat down with Barry Horne, Chief Executive at Activity Alliance, the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, to learn more about how the Paralympics can help pave the way for a more inclusive society.

How much of a role do the Paralympics play in challenging people’s perceptions about disability?

The Paralympic Games are a fantastic platform to showcase elite disabled sports people’s talent on a global stage. Undoubtedly, it does play a role in changing some attitudes towards disabled people in sport and activity. For those of us who are motivated by competition or sporting success, the Games can inspire us.

I was lucky enough to be in my role for and was privileged to go to the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. It is almost 10 years since London 2012, which left a lasting positive memory for many. But there is much more work still to do to ensure disabled people have a level playing field.

We must understand as we watch the Games, there are millions more disabled people in our communities who are not motivated or inspired by elite athletes. Millions more disabled people who are waiting to find the right opportunity in their local area. We must reassure people throughout the year that just being active is good enough.

How important are major sporting events in increasing disabled people’s sports participation?

There is no doubt that major sporting events, like the Paralympic Games and not forgetting other events like the Special Olympics, Deaflympics and World Dwarf Games, highlight disabled people’s talent. Due to funding, the media rights and history, the spotlight is always more on the Paralympics. But I’d like to see every major event for disabled people getting their rightful attention and funding.   

Disabled people remain twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people. The real benefit will come from increased conversations around disabled people’s participation, greater commitment from leaders across sport and activity. And in turn, more investment. So, it’s just as important for non-disabled people to experience and learn from the Paralympics!

What are you most looking forward to at Tokyo 2020?

I’m a huge sports fan, so I relish watching the world’s best compete across such a huge array of sports. Too many sports to mention. I’m involved in tennis as a player at local level and as an advisor on the LTA council, so I will certainly be looking out for our best wheelchair players. If you have watched a game of boccia, you must check out the sheer competitive edge and skill during the Games. I love it!

But the Tokyo 2020 Games is so much more than just ‘sport’. The benefits of sport are more than medals. It impacts our mental and physical health and social inclusion. I hope we continue to talk about these benefits long after the Paralympics are over.

Where should people go if they feel inspired to take part in one of the sports on display at the Games?

As the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, we are very much led by insight. Through this we know many disabled people would like to be more active. But we need to ensure there are a wealth of opportunities on people’s doorstep, that are welcoming, inclusive and accessible.

It does concern me every time we have a major event like the Paralympics that supply will not meet demand. There will be people phoning their local councils or looking on club databases and not finding much nearby. This has to change.

There are many ways disabled people can enjoy an active lifestyle. This includes sports and activities for people with specific impairments and inclusive sessions where disabled and non-disabled people can take part together.

Our ‘How to Start’ page on our website can point people in the right direction to begin with. We also have the Get Out Get Active programme, funded by Spirit of 2021, Sport England and London Marathon Charitable Trust. At the moment, the programme is available in 21 locations across the UK so it is definitely worth a look to see if it is going on in your area.

National Disability Sports Organisations are a good starting point for many disabled people too. They provide advice, support and opportunities so disabled people can be more active. Parasport powered by Toyota is an online database on which you can find inclusive local opportunities.

Active Partnerships exist in every county - most will have information about inclusive or impairment specific opportunities in your area.

What can sports clubs and organisations do to make their sessions more welcoming to disabled people?

There are a number of things, but I’d say initially it’s about listening to disabled people. Don’t assume you know based on one person or what you think is good. Take feedback onboard and use the many resources to upskill your workforce.  

We’ve got so many free resources on our site that are worth going through. Visit our resources here.

Our Ten Principles are widely acknowledged by sport and leisure providers and always a good starting point. These principles were developed with disabled people and outline the ways sport/activity provides and how organisations can help make their activities more appealing. In fact, principle 9 is all about welcoming disabled people to your sport or activity session and how a positive first experience will result in a person being more likely to return.

Good luck to all on the ParalympicsGB team!

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