Mike Sharrock

One thing above all else characterised the Summer of 2021. The power of athletes using the unique platform that they have to drive social change. That’s it. 

Whether in the strength of their performances on the field of play, in media interviews or in talking about issues that matter to them on their own social media channels – be it mental health, sustainability, disability or the importance of effective representation. 

It is striking that those voices are so colourful, challenging and effective in speaking to a nation in all its many guises. And there is no doubt that Paralympic athletes are amongst some of the most powerful. 

Indeed, 83 per cent of respondents in a Savanta ComRes piece of research conducted after the Tokyo Paralympic Games said it is helpful for ParalympicsGB athletes to talk about wider issues that disabled people face, demonstrating that Paralympic athletes can and should be using their platform to advocate for change.

Coinciding with the United Nations' (UN) International Day of Disabled Persons, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) is releasing its new 10-year strategy today. The theme of the UN’s focus is leadership and participation of disabled people towards an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world. 

There is no doubt that disabled people in the United Kingdom and globally have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. But importantly, the UN highlights how fundamental it is that disabled people lead the debate and contribute themselves in moving towards a more inclusive world. So, it’s within that important context that we set our goals for the next 10 years and that serves to define our own role in the UK and beyond.

ParalympicsGB will throw its support behind its athletes, as announced by its 10-year plan ©Getty Images
ParalympicsGB will throw its support behind its athletes, as announced by its 10-year plan ©Getty Images

So, what is our ambition? We are and want to continue to be a world-leading Paralympic team and a force for change for disabled people across the UK. The power of the Paralympics to inspire a shift in perceptions of disability is clear and proven - particularly around London 2012 and the momentum that came from it. We want to build on that through the continued success of ParalympicsGB and by delivering real and sustainable improvements to the lives of disabled people across the UK over the next 10 years.

And one clear way we can do that is to amplify those voices we have been hearing this summer. But we also want to go further to untap the huge potential of current and former Paralympians to work with us as agents for change. We will listen to what is important to them, tell their stories and involve them in our work with commercial and other partners to help bring about a more inclusive society for disabled people.

The performances of ParalympicsGB will continue to be a source of inspiration and unity for our nation. We are incredibly proud of our second place in the medal table in Tokyo - including across 18 sports, the most one nation has ever achieved at a Paralympic Games - and the huge depth and breadth in experience and new talent we showcased.

We will not let up for one moment in our efforts to create an environment where every athlete can compete at their best when it matters most. Our laser-like focus on the key components that contribute to success at a Games has never been more important as, quite rightly, many nations are snapping at our heels as their Para programmes go from strength to strength. The quality of competition is soaring.

Britain won medals across 18 sports as it finished second in the medals table at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ©ParalympicsGB
Britain won medals across 18 sports as it finished second in the medals table at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ©ParalympicsGB

None of this is achievable without partnerships, whether that’s the UK sporting landscape, our global sport and disability partners or our corporate partnerships. Our Beyond the Podium programme is a unique diversity and inclusion forum for our corporate partners to share best practice, challenge and stimulate each other, and work with Paralympians towards a more inclusive society. 

Purposeful partnerships are key to any sponsorship now but there is no doubt that being a part of the ParalympicsGB family has got to mean leading by example with customers, employees and clients. It is hugely exciting to see where this can take us.

And we can be a powerful voice as part of the movement for creating a more inclusive world. Working with the disability charity Scope, we help to amplify their campaigns. 

But more than that, we use the skills they have to deliver training for our partners and we will pilot advocacy training for our athletes to help them to be effective campaigners, if that is something they want to be.

With UK Sport’s strategy focused on winning well and inspiring positive change and with the International Paralympic Committee's wethe15 campaign using the power of the Paralympic movement to make a difference to the world’s 1.2 billion people with a disability, these are exciting times, and we can all be part of the change.