IPC decision gives athletes a chance to repeat their London 2012 exploits in 2017

Britain’s track and field Paralympians will have the chance to recreate this summer’s golden exploits, after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that London would host the 2017 IPC World Athletics Championships in the Olympic Stadium.

The championships will be held in July 2017, just a month before the same venue hosts the mainstream IAAF World Athletics Championships. London will become the first city to host the two events in the same year.

Britain’s Paralympians were quick to celebrate the announcement on Twitter.

Aled Davies, who won discus gold and shot put bronze at London 2012, tweeted: “Just touched down in Singapore to hear amazing news! The IPC World Championships are in London 2017!!! Yes!!!!!!! We get to do it all again!”

Richard Whitehead, who won 200 metres gold in London, said: “2017 Athletics World Championships in London another great opportunity to see the world’s best athletes! See you all there! Who’s coming?”

And Stephen Miller, who jointly captained the British athletics team in London in his fifth Paralympic Games, added: “In 4 years I may get to have another go in the London Olympic stadium – IPC World Athletics Championships – does #teammiller fancy a day trip?”

London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said the capital was now “poised to recreate the magic of 2012”.

He added: “London’s Paralympic Games were the first ever to sell out, and these championships provide a perfect chance to build on that enthusiasm for disabled sport, bringing back the world’s greatest Paralympians to the Olympic Stadium, and at the same time providing a major economic boost to the capital.”

The event will be organised by the Greater London Authority, partnering with UK Athletics, ParalympicsGB, Newham council, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the University of East London.

Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of the British Paralympic Association, said: “The British public packed the stadium to the rafters for every session during the London 2012 Paralympics and it was the scene for many of the great British moments of the summer.

“It’s fantastic news that it will be the stage for this event in 2017 and we’re sure that the public appetite will be even stronger after the Rio Games.”

The announcement came only two days after a trio of Paralympians appeared in the 12-strong shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

David Weir, Ellie Simmonds and Sarah Storey failed to feature in the top three after the public voting, but members of ParalympicsGB were recognised with three awards.

The ParalympicsGB team – which secured 34 gold, 43 silver and 43 bronze medals at London 2012 – shared the team of the year award with Team GB, Britain’s Olympic squad.

Teenage Paralympic swimming star Josef Craig, who won 400 metres freestyle gold in London, won the Young Sports Personality of the Year award. He was following in the steps of his team-mate Ellie Simmonds, who won the award in 2008.

And Martine Wright, a survivor of the 2005 London bombings, and a member of the sitting volleyball team that was told it had failed to secure any UK Sport funding just two days later, won the BBC Helen Rollason Award for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”.

She said it was an “absolute honour” to collect the award, and added: “I do count myself lucky that I survived that awful day, and I count myself lucky that I’ve made an incredible journey the last seven years.”

The award has previously been given to a number of sporting figures with experience of impairment or health conditions, including Oscar Pistorius, Alastair Hignell, Frank Williams and Bob Champion.

Heathrow wheelchair ordeal raises London 2012 questions

A leading activist has accused airline staff of ignoring the needs of disabled passengers at Heathrow, just weeks before thousands of Paralympic athletes and other disabled visitors will flood through the airport.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), was returning from a disability rights conference in Denmark organised by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

She had asked British Airways (BA) cabin crew on the return flight last Friday evening if they could arrange for her fold-up wheelchair to be brought to the door of the plane on arrival at Heathrow’s terminal five, as it had been when she arrived at Copenhagen on the outward flight.

But as she left the plane, she was told by the airline’s ground handling crew that they would not bring her wheelchair to the plane for “health and safety reasons”, even though they would only have had to wheel it to the entrance, rather than carry it.

Instead, she had to transfer into one of the airport’s own wheelchairs, and then transfer again into her own chair once she had managed to reclaim it from the carousel in the busy luggage retrieval area.

Newman said: “I had to use the generic chair, which for me with my spinal and muscular condition, although it was functional, it hurt. It was very uncomfortable.

“The only time I have been abroad over the last few years is because of UKDPC and the UN Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities].

“I find it appalling that I go to Europe and I contribute a UK disabled people’s organisation’s perspective, as part of an ongoing dialogue about inclusive society, and then I come back and I am treated like a piece of shit.”

A spokesman for BA, the “official airline partner” of the London 2012 games, said: “We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience and distress experienced by Ms Newman on this occasion, and a member of our customer relations is contacting her to apologise directly and to offer a gesture of goodwill.”

He said BA was continuing to introduce new measures to improve its disability assistance programme, including improving the consistency of returning passengers’ wheelchairs to the aircraft door.

Other measures include providing seat maps on BA’s website, so disabled passengers can choose a seat that best meets their needs; and offering space to stow wheelchairs and mobility aids in aircraft cabins.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has published new guidelines to clarify the rights of disabled air passengers.

The commission said it had published the guidelines as thousands of Paralympians and disabled spectators prepare to travel to London for the 2012 Paralympics.

It said that many disabled air travellers still face problems of “unjustified refusals” to allow them to board aircraft, and other “unfair demands” when attempting to travel.

The guidelines cover travellers at all EU airports and the operations of EU airlines anywhere in the world as well as non-EU airlines within or leaving Europe, and clarify existing EU rules on the rights of disabled air passengers.

Xavier Gonzalez, chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “Just like the many passengers with a disability who fly on a daily basis, our athletes regularly experience unnecessary problems travelling through airports and with airlines. This should not be the case when we are striving for equality in society.

“This summer, 4,200 athletes will be travelling to London for the biggest ever Paralympic Games.

“The experience they have travelling on airlines and through airports could shape how they view the success of the games, regardless of their athletic performance.”

Classification flaws could mean missed swimming opportunity at London 2012

The lack of severely-impaired swimmers in the British team at this summer’s Paralympics could mean a missed chance to highlight sporting opportunities for other people with similar conditions, according to a leading athlete and activist.

Helen Dolphin is Britain’s fastest 200 metre freestyle swimmer in the S5 category, but because of flaws in the classification system missed out on qualification for London 2012 at the Paralympic trials.

British swimmers could only qualify for the games by clocking times that matched the third best time in the world for their classification – plus an extra two per cent – when the trials were held in March at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park.

The world record for her S5 event is 45 seconds faster than her personal best (swimmers with physical impairments are categorised from S1 to S10, with S1 for those with the most severe impairments).

Dolphin, who is director of policy and campaigns for the charity Disabled Motoring UK, says she would have had to secure a time which was fractions of a second slower than that of swimming sensation Ellie Simmonds – who competes in the S6 category  – in order to qualify.

She said: “I believe that there are problems with the classification system, particularly in the lower categories where disabilities are so diverse.

“I don’t wish to take anything away from anybody’s achievements, but for the sake of future athletes with severe impairments I believe it is time for the classification system to be looked at properly.

“I really don’t believe it is possible for anybody with my impairment to swim anywhere near the GB qualification time. I’ve looked at the times of men with similar disabilities and even they are not close to this time.”

The classification system is the responsibility of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), while British Swimming, the governing body for British swimmers, selects the teams.

Dolphin fears that problems with the classification and selection system will mean very few swimmers with severe impairments will represent Britain at London 2012.

With so few British role models on show, she says, this could make it harder to encourage more people with impairments such as hers – she had her legs and hands amputated 15 years ago – to take up swimming.

She said: “Surely it is better to have somebody in these categories swimming there than nobody.

“The message should be that people – whatever their disabilities – can be involved in sport. And if you are number one in your category, surely you should be swimming at London 2012.”

The IPC said it could not comment on individual cases, but a spokesman said that Paralympic athletes were grouped by the “extent of activity limitation they have in common” rather than by their impairment or performance.

He said: “Because the extent of activity limitation and impairment is complex and has continuous variables, it is mathematically impossible to create a classification system in which classes only comprise athletes experiencing exactly the same degree of activity limitation.

“By furthering our understanding of both biomechanics of swimming and more accurate measuring of impairment, the boundaries of classes are subject to regular review.

“However, no system should systematically disadvantage more severely impaired [athletes] within a class.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Paralympic sport bosses set to do more on rights

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.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Inspired folk dancers receive 2012 seal of approval

A project that adapts traditional English folk dances for wheelchair-users has been recognised by organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Folk in Motion has been granted an Inspire mark, official 2012 branding that recognises innovative and exceptional projects inspired by the games.

The project takes traditional English folk dances dating back to the 1600s and adapts them for wheelchair-users, to produce a new form of dance that those taking part have called “wolk”.

Wolk is danced in pairs, with a group of pairs making up a team, usually of eight dancers. Teams dance at the pace of the slowest member.

Dr Ju Gosling, who created the project and is based in the 2012 host borough of Newham, said: “We believe that dance is for everyone. With no body movements required, wolk is open to all wheelchair-users, including people who need to be pushed. Forming a wolk team is also a great way to have fun and make friends.”

Gosling is hoping the Folk in Motion project – which is supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society – will boost interest and participation in wheelchair dance.

Wheelchair dance sport is recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, although it is not included within the Paralympics itself. There are fewer than 15 wheelchair dance sport clubs in the UK, compared with more than 10 times that number in the Netherlands.

Gosling also hopes local wheelchair-users will take part in a wolk project at the Together international disability arts festival, which is due to take place in parallel with the Paralympics, in a park in Newham, less than two miles from the main Olympic Park.

There could also be a performance on what is likely to be the penultimate day of the festival, Saturday 8 September.

Gosling is director of the festival, which will put disability rights at its heart, and will be led by the UK Disabled People’s Council.

The Folk in Motion project was founded last November following Gosling’s exhibition Canning Town Folk, which looked at the work of three women from the English folk dance movement, and their links with Canning Town in east London, early in the last century.

While working on the exhibition, Gosling realised the dances could be adapted for wheelchair-users. A development week was funded by Arts Council England.

The project provides free downloadable choreography, music, scores and teaching videos on its website.

Lord [Seb] Coe, chair of the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, said: “Folk in Motion is encouraging disabled people to fulfill their potential.

“I am proud that with the help of partners such as Folk in Motion and the English Folk Dance and Song Society, we are delivering our vision to use the power of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to boost participation in wheelchair dance.”

Folk in Motion is available for demonstrations and to lead workshops, and next year plans a tour of folk festivals.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

2012 torch will reflect unique Paralympic relay

The organisers of London 2012 have unveiled the new Paralympic torch, as they marked the latest milestone in the count-down to the games.

The three-sided torch – made from an aluminium alloy – has the same design as the golden Olympic torch, but has been given a silver mirrored finish so that its colour will adapt to its surroundings.

Because part of the torch relay will take place at night – the Olympic relay will only take place during the day – the lit Paralympic torch should also shine brightly and stand out in the darkness.

The three sides of the torch echo the three identical but differently-coloured shapes that make up the Paralympic symbol.

The torch was revealed as the 2012 organising committee, LOCOG, marked six months to the opening ceremony of the games on 29 August.

LOCOG also confirmed that the Paralympics will be declared open by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. They will also perform the same roles at the Olympics opening ceremony on 27 July.

It will be the first time the Queen has opened a Paralympic games, although she opened the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

The Paralympics torch relay will take a unique form, with separate flames lit in London (24 August), Belfast (25 August), Edinburgh (26 August) and Cardiff (27 August), before the four are brought together at a ceremony on 28 August at Stoke Mandeville, the “spiritual home” of the Paralympic movement.

This flame will then be carried by teams of volunteers on a 24-hour relay to the Olympic Stadium in east London for the opening ceremony.

LOCOG also announced the 33 communities across the UK that will host Paralympic “flame celebrations” over the August bank holiday weekend. Other communities will be encouraged to play a part by lighting their own lanterns.

Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said: “I think it is brilliant that the actual Paralympic flame, that will be used to light the cauldron in the opening ceremony on 29 August, will be created at Stoke Mandeville, a place steeped in Paralympic history.

“The games are coming home in six months’ time and it is only right that we celebrate the significance of Stoke Mandeville, the Paralympic movement’s birthplace.”

The torch will be carried by teams nominated by the public – and then selected by the relay’s sponsors, Sainsbury’s, BT and  Lloyds TSB – as well as those nominated by the IPC, the British Paralympic Association, and the three sponsors.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Demand for Paralympic tickets is ‘unprecedented’

Demand for tickets for next year’s Paralympics in London has reached “unprecedented” levels, according to the 2012 organising committee.

Between 9 and 26 September, 116,000 people applied for tickets to next summer’s games, applying for a total of 1.14 million tickets.

Out of 300 ticketed sessions, 126 are now over-subscribed in at least one of the price categories and so will need to have their tickets allocated via a ballot – the first time any Paralympic games has had to take such a step.

There are only three sports – road cycling, sitting volleyball and powerlifting – in which there are no oversubscribed sessions in at least one price category.

Although it is the first time any organising committee has put tickets on sale so far in advance – and not on a “first come, first served” basis – a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said that “we never have seen demand like this”.

He said: “To have applications for 1.14 million tickets after a three-week ticket window is phenomenal.”

In 2008, the Beijing organising committee eventually sold 1.82 million tickets at full price, while the government bought another 1.64 million and distributed them to community groups, schools, and other organisations. Athens sold just 850,000 tickets for the 2004 Paralympics, while Sydney sold 1.2 million in 2000.

But the figures for the past three Paralympics are for final ticket sales, while there is nearly a year to go until the 2012 games open.

Sir Philip Craven, the IPC’s president, said: “To have over a million tickets applied for 11 months out from the games is unprecedented and underlines the growing excitement for what will be a tremendous sporting event.

“This will be the first time ballots have been held for a number of sports, and I could not be more thrilled.”

Payment for tickets will be taken by 31 October, with notification of whether applications have been successful sent by 18 November.

More Paralympic tickets will be put on sale in December, with a final batch to be made available next spring.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com