Credit: Ella Raper Photography

In the Student Leadership Elections, I’ll be a bit of a single-issue voter. This is because I have the privilege of serving as Chair of Loughborough Students’ Wheelchair Basketball Club, and so have a very clear idea of what I want in a Sports Executive Officer. It has been an exciting time to serve: the Club had, for the first time, two teams competing in BUCS, and they are coached by Loughborough Lightning’s excellent Lucy Robinson, a Paralympian and Team GB player.

Loughborough University is a centre of Parasport excellence. The Loughborough Lightning Wheelchair Basketball team, a professional women’s team, have won the Women’s Premier League each year since the League’s inception; the AU Club’s first team has Senior and Junior GB players; Abbie Breakwell, a student at Loughborough who plays Wheelchair Tennis, is ranked 2nd in Great Britain and 37th in the world; Para-Badminton player Yasmina Eissa is ranked 10th globally in the WS SH6; and we have many top track and field para-athletes. The list goes on and on, from a competitor at the World Para Surfing Championship in 2023 (Kirsty Taylor), to para-swimmers at the World Para Swimming Championships. It is impossible to mention everyone. Many of these para-athletes are students and members of the Athletic Union.

The other side of Parasport at Loughborough is the various events run to get students, who might never have known about different parasports, or never had access, involved. Parasport Takeover Week is one of the most prominent of these and introduces disabled and able-bodied students to sports such as Boccia, Goalball, and Blind Tennis.

Given the centrality of Parasport to the world-class sporting provision here, it was a deep shame to see such little mention of Parasport in the manifestos of the four candidates running to be the Sports Executive Officer at Loughborough Student’s Union next year. One gave no mention of Parasport. Another touched on it in passing, claiming that her “positive connections with… parasport… provide me with solid foundations”, but not saying what those connections were, or how she might engage with Parasport if elected. The remaining two fared a little better. One pledged to “increase the inclusion and advertisement of the Parasport offering… through taster and trial sessions…”- fine, but what does that practically mean when there already are tasters and trial sessions throughout the year? This abstract approach to pledges continued with the final candidate, who promised to advocate for Parasport by “promoting inclusivity in all AU sports”. Again, good in principle, but what does that mean, and how will you achieve that?

All the candidates mentioned inclusion. This is good. One associated it exclusively with Parasport, and the others did not give enough space to explain what they meant. However, in isolation, inclusion is a broad and nonspecific term, a word that does not accurately convey anything when dealing with practicalities. Including disabled students means something very different to including students from minority groups or the LGBTQ+ community. All of these, as well as any other interpretation, is incredibly, and equally, important. But they all require fundamentally different actions and initiatives being taken, and not discussing that full range is a missed opportunity for sport at Loughborough.

Something the elected candidate might consider is evaluating the Para Sports Awards, run by the Para Sport Executive. There are different tiers, ranging from ‘participating’ to ‘achieving’. Each has varying standards a Club must meet to be awarded it. It has been a success in some cases, genuinely transforming AU Clubs into accessible, modern sports clubs, but in other cases, it has been a checklist Clubs have met because they must, and no more. Earlier this year I was contacted by a fellow AU Club seeking advice on how to run a wheelchair-based version of their sport. I responded eagerly, setting out the principles of wheelchair sports, how they could be adapted to their sport, and offering to support a session. Many months later, I’m still waiting for a reply, with the distinct feeling that the email might have been used to ‘tick’ one of their boxes for a Para Sports Award.

I am sympathetic to the constraints of a word limit, as I’m sure all students are. But what ends up in the final cut of a manifesto indicates what you value and is symptomatic of the barriers Parasport still face at Loughborough. I’m sure all the candidates are talented and capable individuals who are passionate about sports, but I hope that when one is elected, they make a strong effort to rectify the oversight their manifesto exposed by engaging with students and staff in Loughborough’s Parasport community.

The Opinion here represents the personal views of Harold Bowie, and not of any affiliated organisations to Harold Bowie
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