Dame Sarah Storey has called for World Championships to merge with para-cycling World Championships in a bid to boost spectator numbers and encourage greater participation in disability sports at grassroots level.
Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian said the changes would allow spectators to watch both disability and non-disability events in a single day, rather than few people seeing para events, as she says is currently the case.
Although there are 242,500 more people participating in disability sport now than in 2005, Sport England reports numbers fell by 19,800 in the last 12 months, with a disabled person now half as likely to play sport as a non-disabled person.
Storey says increasing the profile of para events could help buck this trend. “The inspiration to increase participation at grassroots comes from the people competing at the top of the sport,” she told the Evening Standard.
“You see it with Wimbledon and television — everyone has tennis rackets for the first half of July. We want para-sport to get more coverage so people with impairments can identify with sporting stars more frequently, not just during the Paralympics every four years.”
“The more household names you can get in the para-sport disciplines, the more people can see someone who is similar to them and say, well if they can do it, maybe I can do something similar, even if it’s not on that level.”
Storey, who won her 12th, 13th and 14th Paralympic Gold medals in Rio in September, is calling on the UCI to follow the lead of rowing and triathlon, in which disabled and non-disabled world championships are integrated.
“I would like to see it happen in as many sports as possible. I want us to get to a point in the future where a world championship can just be about sport and we won’t have to talk about para-sport, or disabled sport and keep them separate,” she said.
According to Sport England, just 17.2 per cent of those over 16 with a long-term limiting illness or disability play sport once a week. The organisation is investing £170m in encouraging more disabled people to get into sport.