Wheelchair sports face dilemma as the able-bodied join in

WHEN Richard Young turned out for the Tottenham Tigers wheelchair basketball team, spectators were incredulous at being told he was able-bodied . . . not because he was playing wheelchair sport, but because he was so good at it.

Wheelchair sports face a dilemma over the increasing numbers of the able-bodied who want to play. At present, the numbers are still small: two in wheelchair racing, several dozen in wheelchair basketball. Some people find the notion distasteful, but for many the aim is reverse integration.

Mr Young, 23, who plays for the Tigers with his wheelchair-bound father, said: 'The idea is to fight the ignorant kind of view you get in the London Marathon, the tears-in-the-eyes, lump-in-the-throat, 'Aren't they brave', all that cobblers. It's trying to get across the idea that wheelchair basketball is a sport in its own right. I've always been in and out of a wheelchair because of my father - it's second nature to me.'

The phenomenon arose when players' friends and relatives went to training sessions to help, and became involved in playing. At the same time, the sport's increasing popularity - and television coverage - meant that the number of clubs was growing but there were not enough players.

The Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association's Development Division, for new teams, now allows two able-bodied players in each five- man side. Phil Craven, the association's chairman, said: 'Most people who try our game do it for one of three reasons: one, to help out; two, to have a go; or three, because they think it's going to be an easy touch to international recognition. They then find it's a bit more difficult than that.

'But my main concern is that we provide a sport for people who can't play football or rugby. So we need to be protective of them.'

His fears are echoed by Steve Spilka, the association's national development officer. 'There's also the fear of opening the gates to the able- bodied. There are between 500 and 600 of us playing at the moment. If you had one or two thousand ABs they could decide 'we don't want disabled people playing this game' and vote us out'.'

Wheelchair racers are equally divided. Chris Hallam, Paralympic medallist, London Marathon winner and MBE for services to the diasabled, exemplifies the ambivalence felt by many: 'I'm all for it, while it's in its infancy.'

The British Wheelchair Racing Association canvassed its members via its newsletter. 'We had a lot of letters, some irate, some very supportive,' said Peter Carruthers, the acting chairman. 'The BWRA policy is that we are a sports organisation, and if able-bodied people choose to race in a wheelchair we don't make any distinction.'

Dan Sadler, 18, son of a former chairman of the association, became involved via his father, but has received abusive phone calls and met hostility at race meetings. Partly this is simply the shock of the unexpected. 'There are very few races organised solely by the BWRA,' Mr Carruthers said. 'We are usually the wheelchair section of someone else's race, and the organisers assume that wheelchair racers will be disabled. Some people think the athletes are cheating. Dan's got himself into a little bit of a fix really. I sometimes want to hit him over the head with a frying pan and say to him, 'Be sensible. You know you're going to cause trouble if you win. Why don't you come second?' '

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral