Interview: Paralympian Hannah Cockroft discusses the importance of disability representation in sport ahead of the BT Sport FA Disability Cup coverage

Never been done before, now in its fifth year the FA Disability Cup is set to be covered live and fully accessible for the first time on BT Sport. Set to host coverage of the Cup, five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft speaks to Enable.

Taking place over this weekend (17 to 18 July) at St George’s Park, alongside Channel 4’s The Last Leg presenter Alex Brooker and BT Sport presenter Jules Breach, Hannah is set to present the FA Disability Cup.

With five Cup finals scheduled across the weekend, not only is the Cup the largest competition of its kind for players involved with impairment-specific football at a national level, BT Sport has partnered with the four Home Nation Football Associations and is set to provide live, accessible coverage.

How do you hope BT’s partnership with the four Home Nations Football Associations will propel disability football to the main stage, as we saw during the Euros?

It gives the sports that are not part of the Paralympics an opportunity to shine. It gives people the opportunity to show how amazing their sport is and hopefully inspire that grassroots level to come through and give it a go.

BT Sport is also ensuring the coverage is accessible – this shows even if we give Para sport coverage it still has to be accessible to all. I think until it affects you, you never think about [accessibility]. I haven’t seen a channel offer as many accessibility options that BT Sport are offering this time. I just hope that this is the way forward and other channels or broadcasters watch this and see that this is how it is done

I just hope that people tune in and see it as football and see it as it is – this football is just as good, if not better, as the football we’re all currently watching. 

I hope that people get behind us. If you watched England play against Denmark and you can watch the final, there is no reason why you shouldn’t watch the FA Disability Cup next weekend: it is still football. 

If you claim you are a football fan, it doesn’t change, it is the same game. I hope that with this new platform disability football has been given, it shows people what is out there.

Growing up, I never saw Para sport out there and I had no idea that I could do sport, it took a long, long time for me to get involved I hope there is some three or five-year-old tuning in and they watch it and they have CP, they are in a powerchair, or visually impaired and they see that they could do this and one day we see them come through and compete at championships. 

There are so many options when disability sport is put out there and given coverage – it brings a whole new audience.

There are five games to be played with a range of abilities from cerebral palsy (CP) to blind and visually impaired: what are you most looking forward to during the weekend of games?

I know that I’m going to learn a lot, because you can always learn a lot from other athletes whether that is work ethic or training ideas. I think, for me, I’m excited to be in that team environment. 

As an individual athlete and compete out on the track on my own so it is going to be something completely different for me and that is what excites me. 

I’ve always wanted to be part of a team, and now I will get to experience just what it is like for them. 

Seeing a big championship from the other side and not being in the middle of it is going to be a huge learning curve; I want to know why reporters ask me the questions they ask me when I’ve just won a race and now, I’ll get to know!

How do you hope that more channels and broadcasters follow the lead of BT Sport to showcase more disability sporting events with accessible live coverage?

I hope that we see more big events people can eventually come along to and watch live, that we can feel proud and fill stadiums and we have our own fans – which I know we have. 

I truly believe that para sport can put bums on seats and it can fill stands if we give them the opportunity to. 

I hope that more coverage comes out from organisations like BT Sport and Channel 4, because Channel 4 is playing big highlights show of the BT coverage, too. I hope that is expanded to more events: world championships for every sport, let’s get it on the telly. 

And the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games are just around the corner. How are you preparing for the Games?

It’s going to be amazing. For me, just being back in that tournament atmosphere and being back in that big championship. I haven’t experienced it in a few years now, and I need to experience it again before heading to Tokyo in a few weeks. 

Being back in that pressurised, you have to perform now: I love that and I thrive off of that.

I love to see how other people thrive off of it also and how others deal with it. I’m looking forward to being back in those surroundings and watching some sport, live sport.

I’m back in the gyms, it has been the weirdest 18-months of training ever but I am enjoying it a little bit. Having the chance to be creative and try a few different things in the chair and thankfully it is all paying off. Preparations are going well. I’m trying to keep doing it and fingers crossed it all goes ahead.

For any readers looking to get into disability sport, what advice do you have for them?

Be brave and confident. Everyone feels the same. I remember when my dad first took me to a wheelchair basketball session, I was so against it, I didn’t know anyone! It turned out to be the best thing that he ever did. 

Don’t be afraid to just do this for fun, nobody is expecting you to be the next Johnnie Peacock. 

Keeping fit and healthy is the main part of sport and it can change your life – it certainly changed my life. 

Supporting BT’s work with the Home Nations football associations to advance disability football, BT Sport will broadcast the 2021 FA Disability Cup. Coverage on 17 to 18 July, available for anyone to watch, will carry audio description, sign-language and sub-titles. For more info, visit: btsport.com/disabilitycup

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