Almanack: Cash the spoke in British wheels

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S wheelchair athletes may be denied international competition later this year. The British Wheelchair Sports Foundation is short of the cash it needs to send teams to competitions held overseas, which means that in some sports - basketball, fencing and weightlifting, for instance - competitors may miss out on world championships.

'It's important that our athletes go to the championships,' Richard Horn, chief executive of the BWSF, tells Almanack, 'because they are pre-runs for the Paralympics in '96.' Horn believes that the success of British athletes at the Paralympics has indirectly led to his current problems. 'The British team came third in the medal table in Barcelona,' he says, 'which is a good situation out of 90 countries. Now everybody knows the Paralympics and it's quite easy to raise money for training our athletes and getting them there.

'But world championships don't have the same charisma that attracts funding,' he goes on, 'and we are having to struggle very hard to raise the funds to get these people to the venues.' The BWSF is short of about pounds 300,000, which would cover their foreign travel arrangements for the rest of this year.

Why isn't the money coming from the Sports Council? There is a distinct pause. 'Yes,' Horn says. 'Why isn't it? We receive no direct funding from the Sports Council or from the government, we have to raise all the money ourselves.' But have you asked the Sports Council for help? 'We are making representations,' Horn replies, having obviously taken his diplomacy pills, 'but it does take time with the Sports Council.'

The irony is that Britain's role in developing wheelchair sports, and in particular the Paralympics, has landed the sports in this country with facilities - like those at Stoke Mandeville - that must be maintained, but which deplete the resources of the sports themselves.

Philip Craven, the former England wheelchair basketball captain, explains: 'The BWSF is in a mess at the moment because Britain traditionally has funded the worldwide development of wheelchair sport because of the stadium at Stoke Mandeville. The world looks on Stoke Mandeville as the birthplace, but Britain ends up paying for it, and a lot of the benefit ends up in other countries.'

So for now the individual sports are having to seek their own sponsors while the BWSF sorts out its funding crisis. Some have their act together: basketball, for instance, has its own Sports Council backing, and Channel 4 television coverage will help in the search for backers. However, other wheelchair sports have no such deals, and competitors may just have to stay at home.

(Photograph omitted)

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