Mencap: Learning disabled athletes need more cash to compete in 2012

Mencap has raised concerns over whether learning disabled athletes will be able to compete at the 2012 Paralympics because of a lack of funding for training.

The warning came after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) lifted a nine-year ban on learning disabled athletes competing at the Paralympics and related events. They are now set to compete in athletics, swimming, rowing and table tennis in London in 2012.

The ban – imposed after 10 members of the 2000 gold medal-winning Spanish learning disabled basketball team were found not to have a learning disability – led to funding cuts for learning disabled sport in the UK.

Mencap chief executive Mark Goldring said: “Everyone at Mencap is delighted that after years of campaigning, athletes with a learning disability will no longer be excluded from the Paralympic Games. However without immediate funding, British athletes will remain excluded from London 2012 despite the ban being lifted. That would be a national embarrassment.”

Funding body UK Sport welcomed the IPC’s decision but said it would continue to fund Paralympic sports based on their ability to deliver medals in London and subsequent games.

Chief operating officer Liz Nicholl said: “Should the addition of any athlete with an intellectual disability mean a real chance of podium success for themselves and their sport, then we will of course apply our principles and hope to help them in realising that dream.”

Though UK Sport has set funding levels for 2009-13, Nicholl said an annual review of funding decisions would be taking place next month.

The IPC’s decision was based on a eligibility and classification system it has developed with the International Federation for sport for athletes with an intellectual disability (INAS-FID).

Under this, athletes will have to submit appropriate medical files to the INAS-FID’s eligibility committee and, if deemed eligible, will receive a “sports intelligence” test, carried out by their sport’s governing federation, testing their level of disability.

INAS-FID president Bob Price said: “This resolution brings this unfortunate episode to an end and re-introduces athletes with an intellectual disability to their proper place within the paralympic family.”

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