The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have faced criticism from learning disability campaigners over a perceived absence of representation at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics for people with such disabilities.
Mencap, the UK charity focused on improving representation and the lives of people suffering from learning disabilities, have complained that athletes with the issue are only competing for 4% of the available medals in Japan.
ParalympicsGB’s team only contains 13 competitors who have learning disabilities out of 227 athletes.
People with learning disabilities were banned from the games for 12 years up to London 2012 after members of the Spanish basketball team at Sydney 2000 faked having learning disabilities in order to compete.
Vijay Patel, a campaigner for Mencap who has a learning disability himself, thinks that the legacy of what happened in Sydney still hangs over the event.
Patel said: “I think (the IPC) fear it happening again, after the incident with the Spanish basketball team back in 2000.
“I feel that the IPC were scared and concerned, that if this happened again, how it might impact on people with a learning disability competing in more sports at the Paralympics.”
Patel went on to express his opinion that it is unfair that those who have learning disabilities aren’t afforded more chances to demonstrate their athletic talents at the games.
He said: “It’s unfair for athletes with learning disabilities not to be able to compete more at the Paralympics.
“This is because I feel they are not getting enough opportunities to be able to compete in the sporting field around other competitors.
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“The Paralympics is about inclusion and it’s important that everyone is included and not left out. I feel that this is discrimination.”
Mencap’s chief executive Edel Harris berated the fact that despite the charity campaigning on the matter for a long period of time, they still have to stand up for athletes with learning disabilities and fight for equal representation.
Harris said: “Why is it – when we are constantly talking about the need for greater inclusion – that people with a learning disability are still excluded from so much at the Paralympics?
“”It’s been 21 years since athletes with a learning disability were banned from competing in the Games – something that has left a terrible legacy, long-lasting exclusion, and meant even fewer opportunities for representation of people with a learning disability on a world stage.”
Harris also expressed his belief that increased participation of athletes with learning disabilities could have a huge impact on combating the backwards views on such disabilities that still exist within some of the general public.
“Learning disability is still so misunderstood and seeing more athletes with a learning disability competing at the Paralympics would help to fight stigma in wider society,” Harris added.
“It is also deeply unfair on the talented athletes with a learning disability who cannot compete alongside their disabled peers.
“We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that people with a learning disability get the opportunities they deserve.
“UK sports organisations also need to commit to more funding so that more athletes with a learning disability can compete in the Paralympics.”
The Paralympics gets underway on Tuesday, with Ellie Simmonds and John Stubbs having been announced as flag bearers for ParalympicsGB (Great Britain).