Disabled child using a slide to play an adapted version of curling.

Disabled children’s charity reaches record participant numbers

A national disabled children’s charity has recorded its highest participation rates in 27 years, less than a year on from winning the British Sports Journalists’ Association’s Sport for Social Change Award.

Panathlon received this award for its long-standing commitment to giving young people with disabilities and special educational needs the chance to partake in competitive sport in 44 counties in England.

Since then, a report by Bean Research revealed a record 62,981 pupils took part in the charity’s 2022/2023 multi-sport programmes, with a further 51,164 benefiting from the ‘ripple effect’.

Mike Dale, Head of Communications, said: “So many children have discovered a self-confidence through Panathlon which they have channelled into other aspects of their lives.

“But it’s not just about sport.

“There is a ripple effect that goes so far beyond simply playing sport.”

In quantifiable terms, this ripple effect has been a catalyst for schools implementing curriculum changes, increasing investment in sports equipment, and up-skilling teachers. 

This underpins Panathlon’s ambition to create a legacy of inclusion, and puts them at the forefront of driving inclusivity during a time of national decline in participation in PE at school.

Panathlon CEO, Ashley Iceton, said: “We’re not actively looking for Paralympians.

“We’re trying to engage all the children that might not have regular activity either in or outside of school. 

“It’s about trying to engage all those children who don’t think sport is for them.

“Regardless of ability level, there are things to learn from winning and losing.”

Competition is Panathlon’s bloodline, with every child scored or timed during activities before all the scores are added to give a combined total for each team. 

This aligns with the founding belief that sport is a powerful source of social and personal development, and that every child has the right to experience competitive sport. 

Yet while every year sees an expansion in participation, with last year’s record-breaking numbers a testament to Panathlon’s popularity, sustainability and longevity remain core values.

Iceton said: “Every year gets harder because our core gets bigger.”

Infographic created by Panathlon

To manage this, young leaders programmes offer the chance to develop knowledge and hone leadership skills, with former Panathletes often returning to coach younger generations. 

Panathlon ‘veterans’ and award-winning competitors, Georgie Hart and Jordan Andrews, returned to lead 100 Key Stage 3 students at the Xtend East London Finals last year. 

Arsenal amputee footballer Isaac Addai said: “Everyone is counted out and doubted in life, but now I’m playing in one of the biggest teams in football history. 

“Without Panathlon, I would never have become involved with physical competition.

“Panathlon gave me a chance to show that I could compete. 

“I just wanted to prove myself and if it wasn’t for Panathlon giving me that chance, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”

Creating opportunities for non-disabled and disabled people to compete together at the same time and in the same events informs Panathlon’s broader promotion of authentic inclusion. 

Independent research has demonstrated the far-reaching impacts of Panathlon’s integration in local communities, helping to build confidence, social skills and reduce isolation. 

Panathlon’s belief in the importance of inspiring and celebrating young people’s achievements has far-reaching reverberations, with The Jack Petchey Foundation helping to fund its efforts.

The Foundation has invested over £1.1 million into Panathlon’s work since 2004, facilitating the involvement of over 250 schools and 4000 young disabled people to develop new skills.

Jack Petchey’s senior partnerships director, Peta Cubberley, attested to Panathlon’s undeterred ambition by revealing it even offered remote support to parents and carers during the pandemic.

She said: “Finding solutions is at the heart of Panathlon’s work ethic, to enable young people to participate in an environment where every person is supported and considered.”

Panathlon’s newest venture reduces inequalities for pupils with additional needs in Wales, after a Sport Wales School Sport Survey revealed only 35% of children participate in organised sport. 

Since winning the Sports Journalists’ Association award, Panathlon has delivered 18 specialist sport competitions for 793 pupils, demonstrating its unrelenting social commitment to being a force for good. 

The SJA has celebrated the achievement’s of para athletes through The Bill McGowran Trophy for Excellence since 1963, and celebrated its 60th year at the awards ceremony last month. 

Featured image credit: Keiron Galvin

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