By Duncan Mackay

November 22 - Charity Mencap have hailed the decision to allow athletes with an intellectual disability (ID athletes) to compete in the London 2012 Paralympics but warned that without funding British athletes will struggle to take part in the Games.

The International Paralympic Committee(IPC) voted yesterday to lift a ban on ID athletes imposed after the 200 Sydney Games when the Spanish basketball team was revealed to have cheated.

Mencap called on the British Government to ensure funding was available immediately so athletes were ready to compete.

Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said: "Everyone at Mencap is delighted that after years of campaigning, athletes with a learning disability will no longer be excluded from the Paralympic Games.

"However, without immediate funding, British athletes will remain excluded from London 2012 despite the ban being lifted.

"This would be a national embarrassment."

Before the ban, ID athletes qualified for lottery funding which is available to all world-class elite athletes, but that was cut after the IPC imposed its ban.

Tim Reddish, the President of ParalympicsGB, predicted that the decision will lead to a rise in standards among ID athletes.

He said: "We have lobbied hard for the re-inclusion of athletes with a learning disability, subject to a robust classification system and are delighted that IPC and INAS-FID have got us to that point.

"We believe in the power of sport to positively affect all people's lives and we advocate the involvement of as many people as possible across all disabilities in sport.

"The Paralympic Games represent the pinnacle of high performance sport, so any athletes with a learning disability will have to meet the same exacting performance and qualification standards as all other GB athletes- we will now work hard with the sports to ensure that these athletes are best prepared."

The IPC said there will be a rigorous classification procedure, with medical files submitted for review before athletes proceed to on-site testing that focuses on "sports intelligence".

Full criteria for ID athletes will be available early next year.

Their inclusion will not reduce the number of athletes from other classes or events in 2012.

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics and Paralympics Minister, said: "I very much welcome this and am delighted that athletes with intellectual disabilities will be competing in the 2012 Games.

"It wasn't a simple decision, but nobody who's been at the Special Olympics would doubt that its competitors are every bit as committed as the Paralympians." 

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