The sports body that represents Britain’s Paralympians has suggested that it is planning to take a more active stance around disability rights issues.
The British Paralympic Association’s (BPA’s) new five-year strategic plan, published this week, also reveals that it is considering setting up a new museum dedicated to capturing the glory of the London 2012 Paralympics and the history of the Paralympic movement, which has its roots in Britain.
The BPA has been criticised by some disabled activists for not doing more around issues of disability rights, at a time when disabled people across the country are facing attacks on their services, support and benefits.
This week, it was caught up in the storm surrounding the sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympics by Atos, the company responsible for carrying out the government’s controversial “fitness for work” tests.
The BPA was forced to comment after Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the world governing body for Paralympic sport, described Atos as a “top sponsor”, and said he was very happy with the company’s relationship with the IPC.
The IPC later confirmed that it “values Atos as a worldwide partner” and that “the small minority of people who do have an issue with Atos Healthcare should raise it with the DWP who employs them rather than anyone involved in the Paralympic movement”.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson – usually thought of as Britain’s greatest Paralympian – had also suggested in an interview with the Guardian this week that the government’s cuts to disability living allowance could harm the development of some top disabled athletes, and make it harder for thousands of disabled people to participate in grassroots sport.
The BPA has now sought to distance itself from Atos, making it clear that its only relationship with the company is through Atos’s sponsorship of the IPC and partnership with the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG.
A BPA spokeswoman said: “Whilst we believe that our athletes and the Paralympic movement can have a significant positive impact on wider society, we would expect to leave comments on specific disability issues not related to sport to other, better-placed organisations.”
But she added: “If the profile the BPA achieves for British athletes provides them with the platform and the profile to share their views on disability issues, then that message will be even more powerful.”
The BPA’s new strategic plan suggests, though, that it wants to play a bigger role in pushing for equality for disabled people.
It says that it wants to “provide an informed and credible opinion in terms of wider social policy debate around disability”.
It makes it clear in the plan that its priority is to “make the UK the leading nation in Paralympic sport”, and points out that three out of four disabled people in the UK do not play any sport.
But it adds: “We are also committed to engaging politically with both the UK government and all devolved administrations to ensure we can advocate successfully as a British body… and more broadly with disability rights groups and charities with whom the issues raised by our profile beyond the London games will continue to be relevant.”
A BPA spokeswoman said: “The intention of the plan is to be permissive. It is not a business plan but it illustrates the range of options we could consider.”
Although the BPA did not want to talk further about its strategic plan, Disability News Service (DNS) understands that it would be unlikely to begin campaigning openly on disability rights issues.
Only two months ago, Baroness Grey-Thompson told DNS that more should be done to “educate” the country’s elite disabled athletes about some of the real-life challenges facing other disabled people.