Chief Executive of the UK Sports Association, Tracey McCillen, challenges perceptions of people with intellectual disability in sport everyday. By using social media monitoring and engagement company, Meltwater, the UK Sports Association listens to critical topics on charity social media in real time. As soon as key stories break on disability sport, McCillen is alerted and can contact the relevant journalist to ensure the UK Sports Association remains at the core of the conversation.
Historically, athletes with intellectual disability have been outsiders in the Paralympic Games. This was illustrated in 1992, where they competed in a separate Games to athletes with physical disability. In 1996, they took part in the Paralympic Games, Atlanta, but on an exhibition basis only. Finally, they achieved full inclusion in the 2000 Games. But dreams were crushed after the scandal at the Sydney Games, when a story broke about 10 out of 12 members of the Spanish basketball squad were impersonators, pretending to be athletes with intellectual disability.
Genuine athletes with intellectual disability were not frauds, but the International Paralympics Committee’s (IPC) reaction was to penalise all athletes with intellectual disability. They announced a complete ban from the Paralympic Games.
The outcome for the genuine intellectually disabled athletes was disastrous and funding was dramatically cut. Athletes had to finance their own training and representation on the GB Team. In the face of uncertainty athletes wondered if they would ever compete at a Paralympics Games again?
Revolutionising Charity Social Media and Media Relations
As any charity knows, fundraising determines their existence. By using Meltwater to revolutionise the way charity the UKSA interacts with the media, they raised public awareness and were central to a fundamental change in worldwide policy.
Meltwater creates opportunities to boost our awareness. By tracking news about disability sport, we remain at the forefront of the conversation and continue to drive the objectives of the UKSA for the success of our athletes.” Tracey McCillen, Chief Executive, UK Sports Association
McCillen explains “Meltwater sent me article via social media about the inequalities of disabled and non-disabled people. Immediately, I reached out to the journalist and shed some light on the inequality of intellectual disability in sport.”
The result of this charity social media conversation was widespread coverage in Nationwide media. With it came public awareness and financial support. Critically, this culminated in the decision in 2009 to lift the ban on athletes with intellectual disability competing in the Paralympic Games. This meant that athletes were proudly able to compete in London 2012 Paralympic Games after a twelve year absence. Nine athletes from the UK competed in London as part of ParalympicsGB. This contributed towards the overall medal tally of one of the most successful Paralympic Games ever.
About UK Sports Association
The UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability (UKSA) was established in 1980 and promotes, facilitates and supports talented sports people with learning disability in the UK to train, compete and excel in national and international sport.
UKSA leads, implements and manages the eligibility and classification system for athletes with learning disability from the UK. UKSA is recognised by UK Sport, is a member of the British Paralympics Association and is the only official GB member of INAS (the International Sports Federation for Para-Athletes with Intellectual Disability), a member of IPC.
UKSA’s role is truly unique as it is the only organisation focusing on performance led, elite level sport for people with learning disability in the UK and has a truly UK wide remit.