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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Gibson MSP

The Importance of Participation and Equality in Sport

On 21 April the Olympic Flame was lit and on 05 August it will signal the beginning of the games in Rio de Janeiro.

Across a range of summer sports, the world will closely follow the achievements of competitors and cheer them on. Scotland has no independent representation as we do at the Commonwealth Games. Our athletes compete as part of Team Great Britain to whom I wish every success. Importantly for individual health and wellbeing, many people will be inspired to take up sports, particularly in those where Team GB does well.

After the closing ceremony on 21 August, the Olympic spirit will not disappear until the next Games four years hence. It will re-emerge just over a fortnight later.

One can enjoy the same engagement and draw the same inspiration from Paralympic athletes competing at the Paralympic Games, also in Rio, from 07 to 18 September. Whereas the Paralympics used to be almost an afterthought - not a single television channel in the United States aired the 2004 Paralympics - it is fair to say the event has become increasingly popular. Ticket sales for the London 2012 Paralympics rose dramatically compared to Beijing only four years earlier.

Abby Kane, a 12-year old swimmer from Largs will be amongst those representing Team GB in September, competing in the 100m backstroke. Abby suffers from a visual impairment due to a condition called Stargardt disease. It hasn't deterred her from swimming from a young age and showing her talent and tenacity, which only a few weeks ago brought her a world record.

Abby is not the only link between North Ayrshire and para-sports. Construction is currently underway of new accommodation and enhanced facilities at the National Sports Centre Inverclyde in Largs. The £12 million redevelopment will provide state-of-the-art accommodation for para-athletes, funded primarily by the SNP Government.

When it opens next spring, the new centre will be unique and the first of its kind in the UK. It is set to become the obvious choice for hosting national and international para-sporting events. This will undoubtedly bring more visitors to Largs and North Ayrshire and benefit the local economy. However, the facility will not be exclusively for use by para-sporters. The participation of local clubs, schools and people of all ages and abilities will also be encouraged.

Of course, it is not only those with disabilities who must be better facilitated and motivated to partake in sports. Research has shown that girls in their early teens are much less likely to be active in sports than boys.

As anyone who practices sports knows, it not only has physical but also psychological benefits. It provides a sense of empowerment and self-confidence, which are crucial values to instil in girls if we want them to fulfil their potential.

We are heading in the right direction.

Across Scotland there is an increased uptake in sport across all ages, with the number of people participating in sports up 8.7% since 2013/14, from 706,764 to 768,212. The SNP Government has promoted sporting activity in a variety of ways, from attracting major events to the country to boosting resources, including funding dedicated to encouraging women’s participation. Indeed, the SNP Government has set up a Sporting Equality Fund which aims to increase the participation, engagement, and promotion of women in sport.

I am also delighted that North Ayrshire is leading the way when it comes to para-sports in the UK. I look forward to seeing the positive impact of the new National Centre Inverclyde and the impact of the Sporting Equality Fund in the months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, let's give our full support to Abby Kane and our other Paralympians in September!


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