Youth Para Sports Championship

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

– The United Kingdom is to the Paralympic movement what Greece is to its Olympic counterpart.

– In his campaign for the presidency of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Andrew Parsons raised the possibility of staging a Youth Paralympic Games following the successes of the Commonwealth Youth Games (since 2000) and the Youth Olympic Games (since 2010).

– The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic led to this being shelved indefinitely, with Parsons citing the preference expressed by National Paralympic Committees for regional arrangements.

– Unfortunately, this attitude towards disability is not new. Too often, parity for persons with disabilities is regarded as a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than an outcome worth pursuing in its own right.

– It is worth remembering that there was no appetite for an international event for disabled athletes in the mid-20th century. It was only through British initiative that the pre-cursor to the Paralympic Games – the Stoke Mandeville Games – came to be established on the sidelines of the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

PROPOSAL AND IMPACT

– For both historical and practical reasons, the United Kingdom is best placed to take the lead in filling the missing piece in the global sporting calendar by staging an international para sports event for young athletes.

– As hosts of the 2012 Paralympics and integrated 2022 Commonwealth Games respectively, London and Birmingham already possess the required infrastructure and have the capacity to accommodate the associated personnel, notably athletes, officials and parents/carers.

– Rather than the top-down approach mooted by Andrew Parsons in 2017 and subsequently dismissed, the event should follow the successful path of its adult/elite counterpart and be built from the ground up.

– One key advantage in organising and hosting the inaugural edition is that there are no established rules or practices by which to abide. Thus, the prospective organisers will not be bound by the constraints of precedent in designing the event.

– The local impact of organising and staging the games would be reflected in the spotlight shone on para sports at a youth level, encouraging development within mainstream and specialist schools over the next four years. The impact of and preparation for the event could also have a positive knock-on effect on disability rights by boosting efforts to make the host city more inclusive and accessible.

– The tremendous social benefits to health, well-being and integration should not be understated, with opportunities otherwise denied to young persons with disabilities being rolled out ahead of the games and maintained thereafter as the event becomes established.

– Furthermore, an increased interest in and uptake of para sport amongst youth could potentially boost standards at the Paralympic level as these young athletes develop and inspire their peers.

– With the right long-term vision for the games, a similar impact could be registered on an international scale. Such an outcome would strengthen the position of the United Kingdom as a world leader in disability inclusion and para sport.

– Whilst national team recognition is likely to mirror that of the Paralympics, there may be limited circumstances when it would be appropriate to recognise other ‘national’ teams, including – but not limited to – participation from the Crown Dependencies.

– The perpetuation of the championships would be a legacy in itself. As with the Stoke Mandeville Games throughout the 1950s, this may see Britain host the early editions by default until a bidding system can be established.

– Eventually, it may be deemed appropriate to transfer responsibility for organising future editions to an international body, such as the IPC. By this point, it is hoped that the success of the inaugural event would have assuaged concerns over its viability.

FINANCE

– Based on historical budgets for similar events (outlined below) adjusted for inflation and scaled to account the estimated size of the event, a provision of £15 million (in 2025 GBP) will be required to stage the inaugural Youth Para Sports Championship to a professional standard.

– The 2011 Isle of Man Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) cost £1.7 million, excluding the renovation of the stadium which was a separate government undertaking (amounting to circa £3 million) to convert the venue into a national stadium.

– The cost of the 2015 CYG in Apia was £4.2 million whilst an estimated £3.2 million was spent on the 2017 edition in Nassau. Prior to Belfast being stripped of its right to host the 2021 edition, the cost was estimated at £3.75 million.

– Between 2001 and 2013, Australia hosted six editions of an Australian Youth Olympic Festival, involving participants from twenty countries or entities and encompassing twenty sporting disciplines. The average cost per edition was £1.7 million.

– Before being postponed to 2026, the cost of the 2022 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Dakar was forecast at £115 million. It is worth noting that the YOG has a rigid structure, allowing negligible flexibility in the sporting programme. Dakar also required the construction of new sporting venues, which would not be the case in places like London or Birmingham.

– Moreover, comparing the cost of the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games (£1.24 billion) to that of the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games (£9.97 billion) could give a rough idea of the relative difference in costs. Applying this ratio to £115 million returns an estimated cost of £14.3 million for the proposed Youth Para Sport Championship (without an allowance for contingency or inflation).

SPORTS AND CEREMONIES

– The sport programme should be designed to include as many disability groups as possible, including various wheelchair and ambulant classes, individuals of short stature, intellectually disabled athletes and athletes with visual or hearing impairments. Inclusion of hearing impaired youth athletes would be a massive step forward in view of their general exclusion from the Paralympics.

– Innovation in the design of the individual medal events within the sporting programme will be an important liberty enjoyed by the organising committee. By including events that are otherwise usually kept separate – such as events exclusive to the Deaflympics or Dwarf Games – or that have not yet been trialled, the games could set a precedent for other competitions in the way that mixed relays were trialled at the YOG prior to featuring at the Olympics. Similarly, event like Para-snooker that no longer feature at the Paralympic Games could be included as a soft ‘test run’ for their return at a senior level.

– Where necessary, merging of related disability classes and factoring arrangements could also be considered to maximise participation whilst maintaining standards.

– Each event should be limited to eight entries so as to ensure that the total number of participants is kept to a sustainable level (below two thousand, excluding guides and other assistants). Exceptions should, however, be made when this would facilitate participation of an otherwise unrepresented territory.

– The event should focus on demonstrating sustainability of the concept. Therefore, the aim should not be to dazzle the world with extravagance that cannot be matched but to inspire through the performance of the athletes. We would want to avoid ‘pricing out’ future hosts by setting the bar too high at what is envisioned as the inaugural edition of a regular fixture.

– Similarly, the Youth Para Sports Championship should not place too much emphasis on the ceremonies, and I would argue that the terms ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing Ceremony’ should be replaced by ‘Welcome Event’ and ‘Closing Celebration’ to reflect a stripped-down spectacle.

– At the same time, a limited artistic programme would allow for able-bodied participation in the event alongside disabled performers (outside assisting), thus sharing the benefits more widely.

CONCLUSION

It is my hope that by organising and staging a Youth Para Sports Championship, the United Kingdom would be setting the tone for a global commitment to genuine inclusion of people – especially youth – with disabilities. A pro-active approach is required to shake off and shatter the unspoken perception that disabled people are the ‘surplus population’ whose inclusion and equal treatment is reliant on financial or public relations considerations. Over the years, there has been a demonstrable up-tick in awareness during the Paralympic Games, and the addition of this missing piece in the sporting calendar could provide that additional boost required to inspire change.