Sporting programmes aimed at enhancing the quality of life of people living with disabilities have been hammered by spending cuts announced today (Wednesday).
Among those to be axed in less than three weeks time will be the Northern Ireland-wide boccia programme, something which the local Southern Trust’s Fit 4 U project participates in.
Participants of the Southern Trust Fit 4 U Project have competed along with teams from across the Province.
Boccia is a target sport, similar to bowls, but played from a seated position. It is an inclusive sport that can be played by people of all ages and abilities.
But it is one element of disability sports that will simply be wiped out at the end of this month.
A programme aimed at promoting disability sports in schools across the Province, which has benefitted more than 33,000 children to date, has also been shelved.
The drastic cuts have been announced by Disability Sport NI today “with great regret”, but it says it has come following a large reduction in Sport NI funding.
It says the reduction means “devastating cuts in our sports and recreation programmes”.
It will mean that the organisation will be forced to remove services from 7,000 of the 20,000 people it currently works with.
Disability Sport NI has also already reduced the number of staff it employs by 25 per cent through natural wastage and redundancy.
It reveals it has been “forced to make these difficult decisions because of a large reduction in our funding”, quantifying the bleak changes: “Last year we secured £285,000 from Sport NI to run our core programmes. This year we received £207,000 and we have been told to expect funding of only £146,000 next year; this represents a 50% reduction in funding over three years.
Also axed is the 5 Star Disability Sport Challenge, which has been running since March 2009 to promote and highlight the success of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tens of thousands of children, and over 200 schools and community groups have participated in the 5 Star Disability Sport Challenge.
The project is two-fold, beginning with a 30 minute awareness raising presentation about disability sport and the Olympic and Paralympics Games, it is delivered to all pupils from Primary 1 to 7.
Presenters have included four times World Disabled Waterski Champion, Dr Janet Gray MBE, and Michael McKillop, from Belfast, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m in the London Paralympics 2012, along with Disability Sport NI staff.
The presentation is designed to be both educational and fun, including a quiz and video clips.
But the education project, which is delivered to over 3,000 children in primary schools annually, will cease operation on March 31.
Disability Sport NI says of the funding cuts: “Ironically this decision comes less than a year after we reported our most successful year to date, when we ran programmes benefitting over 20,000 people across Northern Ireland.”
Also coming to an end on March 31 is the NI Community Events Programme, which involves the organisation of eight community sports events, benefitting 1,000 disabled children and adults; and the Fermanagh Inclusive Leisure Project.
The newly developed Northern Ireland wide boccia programme for people with high levels of physical disability and grassroots wheelchair basketball activities will also cease.
Disability Sport NI will also reduce the number of governing bodies of sport with which it works, from 10 to six, and will discontinue its sports facility access and audit service.
The organisation adds: “As you may be aware Disability Sport NI was set up in 1998 to tackle the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in sport.
“Since then we have successfully worked to improve the health and wellbeing of disabled people through sport and recreation, as well as supporting talented disabled athletes to compete and excel on the world stage.
“We know from experience that sport and physical recreation transforms the lives of disabled people for the better and we are devastated to find ourselves in a position where we will have to make such a large cut in our programmes.”
Picture: A boccia programme offered by Disability Sport NI.
Image: Disability Sport NI
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