What has the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games taught us about disability and inclusivity?

The Commonwealth Games has just ended in the Gold Coast, Australia and the UK has racked up lots of medals. This major international sports event, held every four years and featuring athletes from 71 countries, is nicknamed the “Friendly Games,” and it lived up to its name with inspiring moments, sporting triumphs and a healthy dose of fair play and comradeship.

GC2018 set a new Commonwealth Games record by hosting up to 300 para-athletes and 38 medal events across seven sports – an increase of 45 per cent more athletes and 73 per cent more medals compared to the para-sport competition staged at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Equality and inclusion was the overall aim and there there was an equal number of men’s and women’s events across all sports, too.

“Sport has the power to lead on many issues which affect society. For example, a number of leading sports organisations have taken disability very seriously and done something about it, including the International Paralympic Committee, which has put inclusion at the heart of its hugely successful Paralympic Games, usually held a couple of weeks after the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have finished,” says Mel Young, Chair of sportscotland.

But the Commonwealth Games have taken this a stage further and integrated para-sports into the 11-day sporting itinerary. This means that spectators watched a session which includes events for the disabled as well as non-disabled athletes.

“This is real inclusion,” notes Mel. “One spectator told me: ‘The real beauty of this format is that you immediately forget about the disability of the athlete and you concentrate on the race that you are watching in the same way that you’d watch any race.’ It also means that people stop seeing people as “disabled” and see them first and foremost as athletes representing their country with pride in the same way as everyone else.”

Sammi Kinghorn. Credit: sportscotland

Sammi Kinghorn, who just ranked fourth for Scotland in the T54 1500m and competed in the T54 Marathon this weekend in the Gold Coast, won both the 2017 Disability Sport Award and the overall Scottish Sports Personality Award at the prestigious sportscotland Scottish Sports Awards last year – the first disabled athlete to win the overall award.

After receiving a standing ovation, she said: “It is nice to get that recognition, particularly for para-sports. It is important that para-sports are seen alongside able-bodied athletes. It makes our sport more respected by the public.”

Mel says that every year sportscotland has an award for Sports Person of the Year and one for Disabled Sports Person of the Year, but many para-athletes don’t think that separation is needed any more; there should just be one award for everyone. While disabled athletes fought tooth and nail to have their own category in recent years, sport has moved on that they feel increasingly integrated into the sports world.

Mel Young. Credit: sportscotland

Society has moved on considerably in terms of inclusion for disabled people. “It is a totally different world nowadays but it still has a long way to go before it can be described as fully inclusive for disabled people,” says Mel. “Sport has played a lead role in changing attitudes and showing how we can live and participate successfully together in an inclusive world.”

The Games wanted to set a legacy for other sporting mega-events and hopefully it has set a new gold standard towards the inclusion of para-athletes. The next question is – will the Olympics follow suit and integrate non-disabled and disabled sports together?

“The Commonwealth Games takes us another step forward by organising its agenda in a truly inclusive manner,” says Mel. “Other sections of society are sure to follow, and that is what makes these sporting events so inspiring and significant.”

sportscotland is the national agency for sport in Scotland, invests considerable amounts of money in disabled sport. This is in keeping with its policies of equality and inclusion, which are a key part of the DNA of the organisation, making sure that sport enables anyone to play regardless of who they are and where they come from.

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