Sporting clubs told to recruit disabled players

SCOTTISH sports clubs have been told to recruit disabled players and guarantee them a weekly game under a controversial equality drive ordered by ministers.

The advice could see able-bodied players in a range of team sports - from football to bowls and athletics - sidelined in favour of the handicapped.

Last night, critics branded the online publication "control freakery" and even Scotland's major body for disabled sport appeared to distance itself from the comments.

But the Scottish Executive was sticking by the guidance and insisted it was "important that sports clubs offer opportunities for everyone to play".

The new drive is seemingly at odds with the ethos behind Sport 21, the Executive's flagship initiative to get more Scots engaging in healthier activities more often.

Launched in 1998, it promised "a vision of Scotland as a country where sporting talent is recognised and nurtured".

And by 2020, ministers want 85% of children between 13 and 17 taking part in pursuits outside of school.

But Sport 21 is now under review and this latest guidance appears to contradict the doctrine of sporting excellence it promoted.

Information For Local Sports Clubs gives tips on how to pick teams and win supporters, aimed at all activities at grassroots level.

Club organisers are urged to attract new members from "women, children and young people, disabled people and people from minority ethnic communities".

Then they should develop an "inclusive selection policy which guarantees all members a game each week".

The directive - published on the Executive's website - also tells clubs they should "take a structured approach to becoming open and fair in all aspects of their operation.

"The basic 'foundation' standard requires that the club is committed to equality and monitors its staff, players and volunteers. There are three other levels, leading to an 'advanced' level, with a set of stringent requirements.

"The achievement of the standard should be regarded as a key indicator of a 'good' club, and should help to attract both members and volunteers."

But Scottish Disability Sport warned that equality at all costs was the wrong approach.

Chief executive Gavin MacLeod said: "We support the increase in participation in sport by people with disabilities - that's what we're all about.

"But if they don't have the ability, then there should be discreet provision made for disabled people. It should be about helping them realise their full potential in the correct environment for them.

"There should not be inclusion at all costs. It's about striking a reasonable balance."

And the Scottish Sports Association - an umbrella group for various governing bodies, including the SFA - also said the Executive had got it wrong.

Policy director Chris Robison - himself a former Scottish international athlete - said: "I think the issue is that we have people that are civil servants by career and they're not necessarily sports people.

"They're doing their best, but I just think that sometimes the use of words might not be exactly as we want them.

"I am a coach, I do go to the club and I know the problems they have, and you think 'Yes, I can see why that set of words is not the full picture'.

"It's not only about what they [the disabled] aspire to, but what they're actually capable of - what is appropriate for them."

Asked if sports clubs might follow to the letter the advice published by the Executive, Robison added: "There is a danger of that. I couldn't deny that."

Stuart Sharp, Scotland's first national development officer for disability football, said: "If you take a player who has a physical disability and plant them in a mainstream setting, that could be damaging. It could affect their self-esteem when others skip past them, and they'd notice if other players were only passing to them out of sympathy."

Liz McColgan, the former world 10,000 metre champion, said the Executive's idea was impractical.

She said: "When it comes to competitive team sports like hockey, football or basketball, I cannot see how you can mix disabled and able-bodied athletes. There would be safety issues and there would also be the possibility that some players are asked to modify their behaviour because of who they were competing against.

"The Executive should organise more sport so disabled athletes can compete against each other in proper leagues."

Commenting on the issue, Tory chief whip Bill Aitken said: "One sometimes wonders if the Executive has anything to do."

And the SNP's Fergus Ewing added: "I very much doubt that some people with disabilities would wish to be put into a situation where they felt uncomfortable and unable to justify their inclusion on the basis of sporting standards."

James Frayne of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "This sort of mentality just sees the size and role of government grow endlessly, and that means more irritating regulations and higher taxes for everyone every year."

But last night the Executive defended the guidance. A spokesman said: "It is important that sports clubs offer opportunities for everyone to play at a level which they aspire to, whether that is competitively or socially.

"We are committed to making sport more accessible to all, regardless of ability.

"Sports clubs play a crucial role in the development and promotion of sport. A strong club structure is essential if our ambitions for sport are to be realised."

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