Before the 80s, Taking Part in Sport was Not Possible for People with Disabilities

Note: The UK Sports Association (UKSA), from 30.11.22 is known as ‘SportExcel UK’

“Sport for All” was a slogan used for many years by the Sports Council and during the first “International Year for Disabled People”, the “Sport for All” campaign urged those involved in sport to promote opportunities for people with disabilities and encouraged local authorities and others to assist their participation at local level and in community sports centers.

Sport and physical recreation for people with learning disability began to evolve throughout the UK, but often in a complex and confusing way, with both voluntary and statutory bodies developing programs frequently unaware of what each other was doing.

In 1980, as a result of the Sports Council calling together the many voluntary and statutory bodies to encourage co-operation and the effective use of resources, the UK Sports Association for People with Mental Handicap was established. The role of the organisation was to provide, or to assist in the provision of facilities for physical recreation for the benefit of people with learning disability in the UK and to act as the co-ordinating body across the four countries.

Members of the UKSA regions saw an opportunity for pathways to develop not just in the UK, but through to international level. Discussions and work began with like minded international colleagues and 1986 saw the creation of the International Federation for Persons with Mental Handicap (INAS-FMH) (now INAS-FID), opening up for the first time an international competitive sports pathway for athletes with learning disability.

In 1988, the Government, through the then Minister for Sport, Colin Moynihan, conducted a review of the organisation and resourcing of sport for disabled people in the UK. “Building on Ability”, the Review Groups’ report was published. The report contained a wide range of recommendations aimed at all the statutory and voluntary agencies involved urging them to build on the progress made and to focus on creating additional opportunities and closer liaisons and co-operation. The report recognised the important role played by the UK Sports Association to date and the role it was likely to play in the future.

UKSA continued to build and coordinate a sporting calendar of events. Out of this the biennial Four Nations Swimming and Athletics Championships was developed so that athletes could compete in an international forum. There was no separate English Association therefore UKSA carried out this additional role operating ten English regions, all based on the Sports Council boundaries and worked in collaboration with sports organisations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Through its work with the Sports Council, UKSA created a separate “England” organisation forming the “English Sports Association for People with Learning Disability” on 12th April 1995. UKSA devolved its delivery role in England to the new body and concentrated from this point forward on its coordinating, strategic, GB and international roles.

In 1990, INAS-FMH sanctioned the Spanish Organising Committee to stage the first Paralympic Games for People with Mental Handicap in Madrid, 13th -20th September 1992. Working closely with the British Paralympic Association, UKSA was charged with the responsibility for the GB entry to the 1992 Games and from early 1991 a series of national training sessions and Championships were run, with selection of some competitors taking place at the 1991 Four Nations Championships in Belfast on 20th June, followed by a series of other Four Nation events. A successful team of 130 represented Great Britain at the Games.

In 1994, UKSA’s nominee and double Madrid Paralympic Gold medalist, Kenny Colaine became the first person with learning disability to be awarded the MBE. This marked a significant day of recognition for the achievement of not only this talented sprinter but all athletes with learning disability. This year the organisation also changed its name to “UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability”.

On the 9th November 1995 UKSA was incorporated as a limited company, but retained its charitable status. This year UKSA hosted the INAS-FID Secretariat, held the Presidency and in the years to come, continued its UK coordinating role and supported further the development of the Home Country Associations.

1996 saw UKSA lead the unique Working Party Collaboration between Special Olympics in Wales, Mencap & Gateway in Wales and the Welsh Sports Association for People with Learning Disability and published the “Progress Through Partnership” Report in April that year setting the framework for the development of sports opportunities in Wales. UKSA campaigned to include athletes with learning disability in the 1996 Atlanta Games and together with the work of its international partners resulted in limited exhibition events for athletes with learning disability on the programme. Post Atlanta, significant involvement in the continued development of INAS-FID was maintained and the campaign for inclusion in the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games began, as well as leading the Working Group that formed the English Federation of Disability Sport, the umbrella body for disability sport in England in 1998.

2000-2002 saw the INAS-FID Secretariat and that of the European region returning to UKSA and its officers taking key technical and executive positions, including Secretary General of both organisations, whilst supporting the President in other areas during some of the most challenging times in INAS-FID’s history following the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

In 2004, UKSA co-ordinated the entry to the first INAS-FID Global Games. Teams across a number of sports, from England, Scotland and Wales competed independently against other INAS nations.

2005 saw a shift in focus to a united Team GB, the management and selection of which was led by UKSA. UKSA continues its support of and work with its Home Country Associations and is the only portal through which GB athletes can access international competition. In recent years, UKSA has introduced significant changes in the management and structure of the GB Teams to competition which has supported the British athlete’s success at home and overseas.

In 2007, UKSA’s nominees were elected to the positions of President and Secretary General of INAS-FID as well as the Presidency of INAS Europe, Member at Large and Treasury. UK nominees also retain some key technical positions. Throughout the years UKSA has, and continues to, campaign for the re-inclusion of athletes in the Paralympic Games.

In 2015, some 35 years since its foundation, the UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability continues to be an important player through its work with Home Country Associations and Governing Bodies in the development of sport for people with learning disability across the UK. UKSA is an important link for this group of athletes to achieve not only sporting success, but personal, social and life skills as they progress along the pathway of competitive sport opportunities.