"It is hard for disabled people to do sports at recreational level, because of physical access as well as attitudes of people who run sport clubs and centres. It is very hard for young people to get integrated into sports clubs," explained Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, 11-time Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair athletics, in an interview with EurActiv.
She, and another Paralympian, Aron Anderson, member of Swedish national sledge hockey team, both Visa sponsored athletes, were invited to the Parliament's Sport intergroup meeting on 29 November 2006 to talk about access to sporting facilities of people with disabilities and to raise awareness of Paralympics. (The Paralympic Games are "an elite multi-sport sport event for athletes with physical disabilities" (see Wikipedia) and the prefix 'para' derives from 'parallel to the Olympic Games'.)
"Media and public perception of the Paralympic games was not very good at the beginning (late 80s'). I've seen a big change since but there's still a long way to go in raising awareness of the Paralympics in terms of support for young athletes, said Grey-Thompson. "There are huge difference between EU member states in their support to Paralympics. Governments also support the Olympic games far more than the Paralympics," added Anderson. The Paralympians called for the EU to put pressure on national governments' sport ministries so that they would improve disabled peoples' access to sport and would fund Paralympics as much as the Olympic games.
The next day, the athletes got precious support from the European Parliament as it adopted, on 30 November 2006, a report on the situation of people with disabilities in the enlarged EU. The report calls on the Commission and the member states to encourage the active involvement of people with disabilities in sport - stressing the importance of sport as a factor for improving the quality of life, self-esteem, independence and social integration of people with disabilities.
The report also calls on the member states to make sports facilities more accessible, remove obstacles to participation by young people with disabilities in sports activities, provide incentives for their greater involvement in sport and promote sports events and competitions for people with disabilities such as the Paralympic Games.
To read the full interview with Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Aron Anderson, click here.