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Description

Jon Morgan
an administrator’s tale



My name is Jonathan Morgan. I was born on 23 June 1965 in Caerphilly into a family where there was a really strong sporting tradition. My father had always been an active sportsman all the way through his university days. He played for the RAF as a wing. I think he had a cap for Cardiff but his career was cut short due to injury and he became an administrator in sport and went on to hold the high office of the President of the Welsh Rugby Union, so, I guess, I was born into very much a sporting family. I think it’s been in my blood. I’ve been brought up with it. I’m just so passionate about sport and I’m not surprised that I ended up pursuing a career in sport.

I went on to Leicester where I studied for three years. I studied politics which sometimes you need when you work in sport and studied a bit in Europe, studied in Russia, in Moscow University for a while, in Leningrad and then, when I returned from university, I found my way into local government and started off in New Tredegar, a leisure centre where I’ve got very happy memories.

I was probably the best bencher in Wales! I enjoyed sport. Rugby was obviously in the blood of the family. I played for St Martins Comprehensive School. I think, on one rare occasion, I made the District 15 but I think I was more of a social player. I played for Senghenydd Rugby Club when I was in my younger days but then, unfortunately, when I was 17, I had a car accident and had a head injury and that was the end of my rugby. I played squash socially, trying to keep myself fit but, of course, as soon as you start working in sport that’s when you throw your own personal sport out of the window.

what’s so special about sport?

I think it’s just the all-round pleasure that it can bring you, whether it’s in a career sense where you work to strive to achieve an end goal and you see an athlete crossing the line and you think, “Well, I couldn’t have been the athlete but I’ve played some small part in that athlete’s success”, or whether it’s just the camaraderie of sport, you know, meeting new people, sustaining friendships over the many years across different continents. I think, myself, I’m generally a social sort of person and I think sport has become a great outlet for the way in which I interact with people and the way I enjoy other people’s company, so it’s brought me lots of pleasure in different ways over the years.

budgeting for participation and success

I think if you read the history of sport in the United Kingdom, let alone Wales, I think we’d all be honest enough to say that disability sport was a Cinderella service. It hadn’t, over the years, received the investment and funding that was required to provide structures to enable disabled people to participate, and what we’ve done in Wales over the last 10 years, we’ve invested reasonable sums of money and I think we’ve created those structures, and disabled people have voted with their feet and they’ve come along and participated, and we’ve seen new athletes coming out of our structures. The outputs that we’ve had from the investments have been tremendous and, in some ways, they’ve been well above our expectations when we started this programme back in 2002.

Obviously, we want to get to a position where we don’t have a disability sport budget but we have a budget for sport and that budget takes account of disabled people when we plan for sport. That’s some way off yet but we’re getting there and we’re probably as advanced in Wales as any other country in the world.

an inclusive vision

Currently, I’m Executive Director with Disability Sport Wales. I’ve held that position since 2002. My role, essentially, is a strategic role, coordinating our community programmes, coordinating our academy and performance programmes, working alongside our education and training programmes and really acting as a conduit between our guys on the ground and then liaising with bodies such as Sport Wales, the Assembly Government and local authorities to make sure that we’ve got the key partnerships in the right places to make sure that the programmes are driven forward. It’s a post that I really enjoy. I get a lot of reward out of the post. We know that we’ve got a huge amount to do, so I’ve still got a lot of drive, a lot of ambition, a lot of goals, personally, that I’d like to see delivered.

We’d like to see a more inclusive sport in Wales where a disabled person has got a right to choose where they want to pursue their own sporting opportunities. If someone was living in Swansea and they wanted to join the local badminton club, well, why not? How could we work with that club to help skill them to give them knowledge to be able to work alongside that disabled person in an appropriate manner, to give them the right coaching, so that that person can achieve the very best they can be. So, we’re very much about trying to challenge the way that traditional sport was delivered in the past and trying to create a system in Wales whereby, as much as we can, we can create opportunity for any disabled person to participate in as much a mainstream setting as is possible. I think we recognise that there will always be some individuals in society who may struggle to integrate and part of our mission is to make sure that, whilst we’re driving forward inclusion, we’re also sustaining quality-based opportunities which may be set in a disability-specific environment but give those individuals the opportunity to participate where they feel comfortable. I think our vision really reflects what I’d like to think is the ambition of disabled people in our century. People don’t want to be pigeon-holed into certain parts of society. They want to be integrated. They want to be mainstreamed, you know. An athlete wants to be viewed as an athlete. So, I’d like to think that our vision is reflective of our society and is also reflective of our government’s ambitions about where we’re trying to go as a nation.

Where possible, we would like to see disabled athletes competing within mainstreamed competition strands. I think we’ve got lots of good examples of that in Wales where we have disabled athletes competing against non-disabled athletes. I think where it gets a little bit more complicated is where you get to the higher levels of World Championships and Paralympic and Olympic Games, and I think that’s really a question of logistics. We have so many athletes competing against so many different classes of disability that actually to integrate all of those events into a main-stream Olympics would probably end up with us having to make some pretty tough decisions as to which classes are entered and to which classes are left out and I don’t think anybody in the Paralympic world would actually want to see us disadvantage disabled athletes by not enabling them to compete in the Olympics. So, I think that what we’ll see over certainly the next 10 to 20 years is far more mainstreaming of athletes, where appropriate alongside non-disabled events, but probably we’ll see the Olympics and Paralympics running parallel for a while, purely because of size and scale.

special moments

I think there’s probably three I can think of, automatically. One would be David Roberts in Beijing when he secured his eleventh gold medal to tally with Dame Tanni’s record. What a fantastic achievement for Wales to have the two highest gold medal earners in our own back yard. That is just unbelievable in some respects.

I can also remember with a lot of passion Gareth Dukes, when Gareth touched home in Athens for the silver medal in the 100 breast-stroke. Gareth had had a particularly tough year. For Gareth to be selected to go to Athens was an achievement in itself. I think our performance minds were telling us that we thought he was capable of a bronze and, of course, he came through and he actually took the gold. Just a phenomenal achievement. Some viewers of this may remember Gareth on the podium crying like a baby and I have to say that’s the one time I cried like a baby as well, because it was just a tremendous occasion.

I suppose the other sort of bittersweet Paralympic memory would be the farewell of Tanni in Beijing. I always remember the one moment where she turned casually to the crowd and waved and for a lot of people they knew that that was Tanni’s last race. We saw the end of a legend and somebody who had done so much - not just in Welsh terms, but in world terms - to bring Paralympic sport to the mainstream of the viewing public. And she continues to do so much.

So many moments, so many excellent Welsh Paralympians, but I guess on my watch those would be the three that I could pick out straight away.

sustaining success

It’s certainly not down to me! I’m just the desk jockey. I think we are well-blessed in Wales that we have some extremely knowledgeable, passionate people who understand what it takes to make a Paralympian and without that infrastructure of performance managers, academy managers, coaches, many hundreds of volunteers - who have given up thousands upon thousands of hours to work with athletes to prepare them for high performance competition - then, I’m sure, the athletes would be first to say that they would never have achieved.

The second strand is the athletes themselves. I mean, we’ve had some of the most incredible Paralympic athletes that the world has ever seen. You know Nicola Tustain in equestrian; Emma Brown, powerlifting, these are names that are known throughout the world but they’ve also got to drive themselves. It’s not just about the coach. If they haven’t got the inner drive and the self belief, if they don’t want to get up on a cold wet morning at five o’clock to do two hours in the pool and then come back at four o’clock and do another two, the coach can’t do that for them. We’ve got some very driven athletes.

The third area of recent success is about structure. I think in about the year 2002, we took a step back in Wales and we said, “Yeah, you know we’ve had success in Paralympic terms, but how do we sustain it when the rest of the world is catching up?”, and I think we took a long hard look at what we had and we accelerated a community programme, and that community programme is really delivering opportunities for disabled children and young adults to get involved in sport in a structured way that they never would have historically had the chance to. In performance terms, it’s no different to the Olympics. If you’ve got a bigger base of participants, then you’ve got more opportunity to select the right profile athletes who can come through and achieve.

We now deliver over 800,000 opportunities a year in the community. We introduced an Academy in 2006 and that Academy is by selection / invitation only. We try to identify the athletes that we think have got the best potential. Along with our partners in Sport Wales, we invest resources, finance. We give them every opportunity we can to come through and what we’ve seen is more young Paralympians coming through from Wales than any other part of the UK. The stats will tell you that, if you go back to 2000 to the Sydney Games, we had 17 Welsh Paralympians in the Games; that figure rose to 24 in Athens; and we’ve now increased to 32 in Beijing. So, I’d like to think that something right is happening and my belief is that when you put those three cornerstones together - the coaching infrastructure, the commitment of the athletes and the overall feeder structure - then you’ve got a real good chance of sustaining success for this country.

hard work and magic

I think there’s a magic in every athlete that goes on the podium. They have to have something which marks them out as being different from another. There’s something about those athletes that will always differentiate them. They’ll work harder, their focus is there, their vision is there, but I think in some cases, success breeds success. Wales is now in a position where I honestly believe Paralympic sport is viewed on an equal footing to that of Olympic sport. When we work with Sport Wales, they challenge us in exactly the same way that they challenge our Olympic partners; in some ways, perhaps, they may challenge us harder because we’ve actually created a position now where in Beijing Welsh athletes took 25% of all the UK gold medals. That is an incredible statistic when we’re only 6% of the population, so the expectations around our delivery are very, very high.

When I talk to colleagues from the Welsh Assembly Government, they talk about Paralympic sport in the same breath they talk about Olympic sport. When we had the homecoming for the Olympics, we had exactly the same homecoming for the Paralympians and there were the same amount of people, Joe Public, outside the Assembly welcoming them home.

I just think that we’re on the verge of something special in Wales, where to be a Paralympian is something very special. So, yeah, there’s got to be a bit of magic but I think there’s a got to be a lot of hard work and that hard work is now being recognised through the way in which Paralympic sport is being presented to the public, is being covered by the media, and also is being supported by areas like the commercial sector that really hasn’t got involved in the past. But we’ve got a whole raft of sponsors now with Disability Sport Wales that we only could have dreamt of ten years ago. But, of course, you’re only as good as your last game, aren’t you, so we need our athletes in London to go out and do what they do best, and that’s perform.


a dragon in there somewhere

I do consider myself to be Welsh. I’d like to think that if you ripped me in half, there’s a dragon in there somewhere. The highlight of my career was to walk out into the Melbourne Arena at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. I’d been fortunate enough to be appointed as the Manager for the village athlete services within Team Wales. We walked into the stadium behind the athletes and, as I’d said earlier, I’d never been good enough to be an athlete. I’d always wanted to be but I was never good enough. But to be able to walk into that stadium with about 100,000 people in the ground, wearing the Welsh colours was just, for me, the moment of my career.

I’m also a very proud trustee of the British Paralympic Association. I go to the Paralympic Games. I’m privileged to serve the team in the four year cycles leading up to the Games in any way that I can, and I’m very very proud to be British at the Paralympic Games but at the end of the day there’s something about being Welsh as well, and I think that the athletes will agree with this. You can be British but also you’re still Welsh. Being out in Delhi recently and looking at the way that the team overcome some of the adversities leading into the Games, to really come together, and the Indians saying that Team Wales was the team that really bonded and showed so much passion to make it right for the athletes. If you’re Welsh, you’re Welsh, and you know it.

the union?

I think, at the moment, in terms of the way the Paralympic family is set up, I can foresee a British team competing for many many Games to come. We’re obviously in an interesting political period with devolution, we’ve got certain powers, we’ve just gone through an exercise whether we’re talking about extending powers for Wales. Who’s to say, in the future, whether Wales would become an independent nation. I guess that’s in the lap of the people but were we to become a nation, well, I’d like to think that, as a population equivalent to New Zealand, we would be able to field a team that would be strong, that would be based on performance and that would be credible and hopefully would come back with a hat full of medals. But that’s a little bit of crystal ball-gazing, at the moment.

When our squads go out and compete as Wales, we’re fiercely Welsh. When we become part of a British Union, we’re fiercely British and, at the moment, we’re all comfortable in that situation. I think it’s always difficult in a British context. I mean when you go to a Paralympic Games part of the success factor is building a team from the four corners of the UK and it’s not always an easy job. Part of our role in Paralympics GB is to create a team ethos and a team spirit which is fiercely British, and we have had incidents in the past where, understandably, some of our Paralympians … I can remember one incident in Athens where one of our guys ran around the pitch after taking a medal and he had a British flag in one hand and a Welsh flag in the other and that’s totally understandable, but when we’re in a village context what we try to ask the athletes is, “We know you’re Welsh, we know you’re Scottish, we know you’re Northern Irish, but let’s put the British flags on the balcony, let’s wear the lion with pride, and if you want to stick your Welsh duvet on your bed that’s fine, but let’s present as a team because we’ve got to be a team”. You could be away for something like six to eight weeks. It’s a long way from home and you may be in a multi sport environment for the first time and it’s pressure cooker. There’s a lot riding on those weeks, there’s a lot at stake, so I think it’s really important that we can build that sense of unity and if that means everybody wearing the British colours, that’s got to be part of the strategy. I think the athletes buy into it and they’re all proud, and when they walk into that stadium in London in 2012, they will be so proud to be wearing the British tracksuit. There’s no doubt about it.

global recognition through sport

In general terms, I think Wales is recognised through many sporting nations as a country that is passionate about sport and, because we’re passionate about sport, it’s probably unlocked doors in other areas, you know, the economy, commercial partnerships, etc. In Paralympic terms, I would like to think that we are genuinely recognised as one of the fore-bearers of the development of disability sport across the world. We recently had an independent evaluation of what we do, and they spoke to Australia - and in sport we look up to Australia for a lot of things - but the Australians were kind enough to say that they felt that the Welsh Disability Sport model was the most advanced in the world and for me that is high praise indeed, a massive pat on the back to everybody in Wales who has played a part in what we currently enjoy - the local authorities, the governing bodies, Sport Wales - it’s a real team effort out there. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all complimented the structures and the programmes that we have. I think they recognise that, as a nation, not only have we grasped the nettle of doing disability sport but actually not just doing it, where are we taking it? How are we going to improve it? How do we challenge ourselves in the future? How do we respond to the way that society reflects disability in general terms? Most importantly, how do we respond to what disabled people themselves want as society moves forward?

It would be nice if we could just rest on our laurels and say, “Well, Australia says we’re good, so isn’t that great!”, but actually, if we did that we would quickly fall behind. I think we’ve got to constantly challenge ourselves, continuously improve ourselves. You could argue that Disability Sport Wales as a business we’re trying to do ourselves out of business. Who is to say that in 20 years time, 30 years time, disability sport will just be integrated across all aspects of our sporting landscape and we will have done our job and we can move on? That’s the prize that we’re aiming for.

the evolution of paralympians

There have always been Welsh athletes in every Paralympic Games since they kicked off in Stoke Mandeville in 1948, so we’ve always been in the mix. I think that we were fortunate to have had Chris Hallam who became quite iconic within Wales in the early part of his career. He burst onto the scene. It was something different. Chris would probably admit he was quite a flamboyant character - some of the skin suits he used to wear. He used to stand out in the crowd. Chris began to bring Paralympic sport to the attention of the Welsh media and the public. Chris was also ably-supported by people like John Harris who also was a superb thrower Paralympian.

The second issue was probably the emergence of Tanni. She became the golden girl. Quite rightly, the public took her to their hearts, the media took her to their hearts, because she’s such a lovely person, she’s so accessible. Also, I think, she presented a different type of athlete, a very committed athlete, a very focused athlete, a very professional athlete in an era when Paralympic sport was changing.

The third aspect was probably the Sydney Games. Sydney in 2000 was the watershed, I believe, in Paralympic sport. The way that the Australians delivered those Games was totally different to previous Games and also the way the Australian public came out and supported the Games. For the first time, we were seeing full stadia, athletics stadia that were full, basketball arenas that were full, swimming arenas that were full. And it’s really been picked up and driven from there. It coincided with Welsh success and Welsh medal takers, so that has heightened media interest.

If I give you a little insight into Beijing. I was privileged to be over in Beijing as part of the British Paralympic Association Board, of which I’m a trustee, and I was probably doing between ten and fifteen interviews per day, live from Beijing on Welsh radio networks: we were doing BBC Wales every day, my colleague was doing Welsh language radio every day, Welsh TV every day. BBC Wales had a full-time reporter in Beijing. Now, we probably wouldn’t have expected that kind of media interest back in 2000 even, but I think that’s where it’s grown and really we’ve got to prepare ourselves for 2012. That is going to be the shop window where we have to think about how we are going to work with our media colleagues, how we are going to really exploit two weeks of the Games when we may never again have that home opportunity, certainly not in our lifetimes. It just goes to show how from in those very early days at Stoke Mandeville when they were actually the Paraplegic Games in 1948, how they’ve grown.

inspirations

In terms of inspirations, I think I would start with my dad. My dad was a huge influence on my life. As a young lad, I can remember training alongside the All Blacks down at the Aberavon rugby ground, as a lad of eight, nine, ten years of age, training with people like Murray Mexted, Graham Mourie, Colin Loader. These were players that kids at my age perhaps wouldn’t have heard of at eight; they certainly wouldn’t have had the chance to meet them. All through my childhood I had this incredible engagement with world class athletes. I think also I was so taken by Dad’s commitment as an administrator to sport. For many years, Dad was secretary of Senghenydd Rugby Club - well Senghenydd Rugby Club was his passion - and hour upon hour, long before the days of laptops, Dad would be writing minutes, totally voluntary, and I think that the whole sporting culture just became inbred. I think it’s an obvious place where I’ve ended up, thankfully, a professional sports administrator and very very privileged to be paid to do a job I love and I’d probably do anyway.

I think other athletes that have had an influence on me over the years, I’d have to say Tanni because Tanni was one of the athletes who I took support from when I first came into my job. A lot of the vision that I hold now, I think, was a vision that grew when I began to understand the aspirations of Tanni. Tanni has always said, ultimately, she wants to be viewed as an athlete and I think that sort of mindset has stayed with me for a long time. I think it’s helped shape the way that I view how we should be integrating disability sport into mainstream.

There’s also another character who has had a huge impact on me within disability sport and that’s Anthony Hughes. Anthony Hughes is our Performance Manager. He is probably the first name I put down on any team sheet. He probably the most passionate, committed, professional person that I’ve ever come across within this sport. He would walk to John O’Groats and back to do something for one of his athletes and if I asked him to go to Lands End the next day, he’d do that as well for me. He is just athlete-centred, athlete first ,and he will move heaven and earth for them. I think when you work alongside people who are so driven and so committed to an end result which is, how do I make this athlete the best they can be, then it rubs off on you and I like to think that - even though I’m the desk flyer - people like Anthony will appreciate that I’ll do what I do because they do so well at what they do. Without those guys at the operational, the coal face of what we do, nothing else would work.

Also I would just say that, over the years, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had some great bosses that I’ve learnt off. I worked for the Sports Council for Wales in the ‘90s. I worked with Dr Huw Jones, you know. Huw has been a tremendous visionary for sport in Wales. He’s steered the ship over many years.

They are incredible role models and I think, most importantly, they are role models for young children who have been born with congenital disability but also equally they are role models for people who perhaps have become disabled through accident or illness. Not everybody is going to become a Paralympian - there’s only a small percentage of people who will ever be good enough, let’s be honest, to be a Paralympian - but it’s about what you can achieve. What can you do? How do you want to live your life? Many of our children who come through our community programme, they don’t just look up to the Tannis and Dai the Tish, they look up to the Ryan Giggs of this world, they look up to the James Hooks of this world, because they see people they adulate and they’d like to be and that’s fine, that’s a good thing. If it inspires families of young children perhaps who have never dealt with disability, to give them an insight into what these children can achieve - how far they can take it, what are their limits - let’s push beyond those limits. Sport has an incredible role to play in presenting disability perhaps in a way that isn’t always presented, so I think we’ve got a very responsible role, not just in the way that we deliver our programmes but the way in which we market our programmes and the way in which we interact with the media and other partners and the general presentation of disability in and around. It’s not just Disability Sport that is looking to integrate; our colleagues based in Disability Wales, they would say that they are looking for more integrated services for disabled people and I think that, if we can demonstrate in sport that it can be achieved, then why can’t it be achieved in other aspects of society. So, I view sport as a key driver within the disability agenda in this country and I think it’s really important that we bring this to the foremost of our mind when we’re doing anything in terms of our planning.

an awakening

I think it’s changing. I think we’ve got to be honest with ourselves: if an individual in our society is non-disabled, if they’ve never come across a disabled person, would you automatically get up in the morning and think disability? I’ll offer a personal observation. I was involved in disability sport when I worked for Rhymney Valley District Council as Sports Development Officer back in the 1980s, early ‘90s, and then, a few years later, we had our first child, Carys and she just happened to be born with Downs Syndrome. Now, even though I’d been involved with disability, it comes as a huge shock to the family and you have to readjust your lifestyle incredibly overnight, and you’ve got fears and worries and what does the future hold? Where do I access services? And that’s a family that’s actually living with disabilities, so we have to be realistic. Why would we expect people to automatically think and react to the needs of the disabled society if they haven’t any experience? I think that’s been our mantra. We don’t expect people to automatically be able to integrate. We think part of our job is to work with key partners to educate them, to help skill them, to support them, to actually develop their services so they are appropriate for disabled people. I think more and more what we’re able to see is an awakening, not just from service providers, not because they have to do something because the legislation says so, doing something because it’s the right thing to do, but we’re also seeing the general public, I think, the reaction changing. I talk to cabbies in London when I go back and fore for Paralympic meetings and they’ll say, “What are you doing mate?” And I’ll say, “Well, you know, I work in Paralympic sport.” “Ah, that’s fantastic. I’ve seen it on the telly!” And what is happening, generally, is that you’ve got this awakening of the general public through greater media exposure, so you’ve got to anticipate that London will potentially be providing wall to wall coverage of disability sport and disabled people and, therefore, we’ve got to think about, how are we going to maximise that opportunity? How are we going to use that as a key driver to go through the next 10 years to take it to an even higher level of awareness and integration.

2012

Beijing was an incredible achievement: 31 Welsh Paralympians making up something like 15% of the GB team. I mean, that’s my wildest dreams but we want to over achieve that figure. We would like to get 36-40 Paralympians in London. Bear in mind we’re only 20 months out from London so we’re working on a long list of athletes who have the potential to be selected - and if fitness is ok, if injury doesn’t prevail, if they continue to perform at the right level of expectation - they should make it, but 20 months is a long time in sport. All we can do as an organisation is to work alongside the emerging athletes in the Academy, to work alongside our UK governing body partners and to try to make sure that whatever services those athletes need between now and London we can provide, and if everything comes together I think Wales will be very proud in 2012 when we see a good contingent of athletes walk out into that stadium in September, medal prospects. We’ve lost some great medalists along the way: we’ve had Emma Brown retire, Nicola Tustain, Tanni, John McFall, many athletes have retired before and since Beijing, so we’ve got a job of work to do. We’ve still got wonderful swimmers: Lizzie Johnson, Irene Lewis, Rhiannon Henry, Gareth Dukes, Dai the Fish - these are athletes who will have their own personal goals, their own personal expectations going into London, as will athletics squad members like Nathan Stephens, you know. Nathan has been an athlete that I’ve had the privilege of watching grow from a relatively young man. He went to Beijing, performed in his first Paralympic Games and came fourth, the hardest cut of all. London, he’ll have personal expectations, so I think, at this stage, we believe there will be medals coming. I’m not going to put too much pressure on the athletes at this stage but certainly I’d like to think that London, if it all comes together, we should be fiercely proud of what Wales will achieve, the pride that they can bring back for our nation over those two weeks.

Who would want to be Dave Roberts at the moment? He’s got to handle the pressure first and foremost of swimming well. You’re only as good as your last swim. He’s then got to handle the pressure of being selected and Dave will take nothing for granted and then, of course, when he gets into that team - if he gets into that team - he’s got to handle the pressure of becoming Great Britain’s greatest ever gold medal-winning Paralympian. You’ve got to be excited about it but also you’ve got to feel for the guy. He’s a human being, after all. Dave will set himself huge expectations. Dave is a fighter. He’s one of the greatest fighters I’ve ever seen. He goes into a pool and he becomes a different person. He’s an animal in the pool - he knows only one thing and that’s winning. If he can hold that pressure, if he can take that into London - if he’s swimming well, if he’s injury free - then he’s got every chance of going on to surpass Tanni’s record and I think Tanni will be first to come down from the stands and give him a big hug and say, “Well done, Dave”. We’re a nation of three million people. To have two athletes of that level is just unbelievable but you’ve got to be excited about 2012 and people have got to be excited about David Roberts. He’s a world class athlete.

who’s next?

We’ve got a very good crop of young Paralympic athletes coming through the books. We would anticipate that we will have something like 18 athletes involved in the UK Athletics programme alone when we go into the back end of 2011, which is hugely exciting. We’ve got 8 senior athletes in New Zealand as we speak in the World Championships - one of them is only 18 - and I think that just shows the level of programme depth that we have in Wales. We’ve got some very good athletes. Nathan Stephens is in a very tough class, I think. The throws class is particularly difficult in athletics. I think a lot of people will know the name Daniel Lucker. He’s had a lot of exposure. He’s a very very good wheelchair racer. He’s only 18, people forget that; he’s still learning his craft. He’s got to go through the transition through being a junior to being a senior and that’s tough in any sport but Dan Lucker is, I think, a name for the future. We’ve got some young swimmers coming through the books in the programme Swim Wales. I think there is a smattering of athletes across maybe seven sports which suggest to me that the future is bright. I think what we have to do is make sure that we can keep that equation going, linking up the right athletes at the right stage of their development with the right coaches working with the right facilities with the right level of resource. It’s a very simple equation but that is the bedrock of what we try to do in Wales and if we get that right then, I think, some of these will go on to be household names like we’ve had in the past.

legacy

The last 10 years for disability sport has been an incredible journey and I don’t think any of us can probably underestimate the importance of teamwork in that journey. If it wasn’t for the buying in of so many partners, such as the local authorities, Sport Wales, Assembly Government, national governing bodies of sport, Commonwealth Games Council. Everybody has embraced this vision of Disability Sport and that has been the critical driver that has really taken us to a level that we probably would have only dreamed of in 2000. If you think that back in 2002, we had about 1,200 opportunities per year for children and young people to do sport in this country and here we are, in 2010, talking about 800,000, where children and young people take part. We’ve talked a lot about performance - understandably in an Olympic and Paralympic setting - but you don’t get Paralympians in the future unless you get people able to participate in sport and it doesn’t matter whether people go on to be a Paralympian or not, I think the greatest legacy of this country is that we are providing an opportunity where a disabled person can go out and they can live a full and meaningful life within sport or physical activity every day of the week, and if we packed up and went home tomorrow, if we left that legacy then I would be happy. The Paralympic success, that’s icing on the cake. Long may it continue.

every kid’s dream

There’s a lovely story of a young man from Merthyr Tydfil who was part of our athletics squad. He was a wheelchair user and he was a thrower and we selected him to go to Dublin for one of the World Junior Athletics Championships. So, he went across to Dublin, flew over and competed in the two days of competition and on the last night, on the Saturday, Anthony Hughes our Performance Manager who was looking after the squad, he phoned Dad back in Merthyr and he said, “We’re going to be arriving at the airport”, and I think mam and dad had some transport difficulties so Anthony, being the guy that he is, said, “Look, do you want me to bring him up the A470 to Merthyr?” The family were very grateful and Anthony said, “By the way I’ll tell you, he became the Junior World Record holder today in the shot-put”, and, of course, you can imagine dad was stunned because, as he admitted later, he never thought of his son as ever being a Junior World Record holder in anything, let alone in sport. So, the next day Anthony took the young athlete back to Merthyr and they met in an area of the car-park and dad and mum were there waiting and they were getting a wheelchair out of the back and the young man was transferring into his chair and dad said, “So, Anthony tells me you’ve become a Junior World Champion?” He said, “Yeah, yeah, Dad, I’ve been on a plane!!”

I think, in some ways, that brings it home to us. Yeah, we’re giving these kids the opportunity to excel and to do the best they can do, but sport is also giving some of these young disabled people life opportunities that otherwise they may never have experienced. We should never forget that. I think it’s really important that we balance our expectations of high performance with the opportunities that we present to these people. Our athletes travel all over the world now, and I think the whole way in which disability sport is perceived has changed. But I always think of that story because it just brings it back into sharp focus. Yeah, he was cool with being the World Junior Champion but what made it really special that weekend was he went on a plane. Isn’t that every kid’s dream?


Three words only to describe myself? Passionate. Determined focused.



interview conducted by Phil Cope on 6 January 2011


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