Sir Philip Craven spoke to open the conference ©Getty Images

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven has officially opened the body's VISTA Conference in Girona, Spain, highlighting how attracting youngsters into the Movement is essential if they are to sustain their growth.

First held in 1993 and now in its seventh edition, the event is targeted at sports scientists and researchers with expertise in Para-sport, with a record 260 delegates attending this year.

"Youngsters are the future of the Movement, however they face multiple challenges engaging and then staying involved in Para-sport," Sir Philip declared in his opening address, after similar speeches by Girona's Deputy Mayor Isabel Marados and Pere Vila, President of Diputació de Girona.

"The key to getting young people to engage in Para-sport is at schools. 

"Sport is life's great educator and the sooner we can get youngsters playing Para-sport and learning key skills and realising they can be good at something, the better life will be.

"Another key area is for all Para-sports to continue to ensure that athlete classification systems are the fairest they can be. 

"If they are, then fair competition, which is what potential athletes always seek, will be assured."

Jennifer Mactavish was awarded the Paralympic Scientific Award ©Facebook
Jennifer Mactavish was awarded the Paralympic Scientific Award ©Facebook

Proceedings opened with a discussion on the theme "securing the future for young Para-athletes", with American former wheelchair racer Dr. Cheri Blauwet and Argentinian wheelchair rugby player Daniela Luchina among those speaking, along with Professor Yves Vanlandewijck, chair of the IPC Sports Science Committee.

Barriers to engagement, coaching, the role of schools and education, and ideas for what more can be done to engage and retain youngsters in Para-sport were among areas covered.

During the Opening Ceremony, Sir Philip also presented Professor Jennifer Mactavish with the 2015 IPC Paralympic Scientific Award, a biennial accolade presented to an academic researcher for their contributions to research in the field of sports for persons with an impairment.

The Canadian has been recognised for her role in the successful re-inclusion of intellectually impaired athletes into the Paralympic Games.

"The IPC Paralympic Scientific Award is this year presented to a Canadian who has spent her entire life in the pursuit of equal opportunities for all," the Briton added.

"In a triumph of collaboration between sports governance and the scientific community, her work provided the framework for the "Eligibility Classification Research" project, directed by the joint taskforce involving the IPC and Inas, the International Federation for Sport for Para-athletes with an Intellectual Disability.

"The project was a success and athletes with an intellectual impairment were allowed back to compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

"Thanks to her tremendous contribution, 120 intellectually impaired athletes were able to fulfill their Paralympic dreams three years ago in the British capital in athletics, swimming and table tennis.

"Rio 2016 now awaits them."

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