Belfast Telegraph

Our wheelchair basketball 'will be axed' in £40k Stormont cuts

By Amanda Ferguson

Sport NI has rejected Disability Sport NI's request for £40,000 to fund two of the most vulnerable groups it supports.

DSNI president and four-times world champion water skier Dr Janet Grey has urged Sports NI to find the cash to ensure the survival of boccia and wheelchair basketball.

Boccia is a paralympic sport similar to bowls which was devised for people with severe physical disabilities and demonstrates that those with very limited mobility can take part in competitive sport.

Sports NI said it had received £285,000 funding last year and £207,000 this year but will only receive £146,000 this year - a halving of its funding over three years.

But a Sports NI spokeswoman said: "The 50% reduction figure provided by DSNI is not based on their core funding, but instead on an inflated budget figure due to 'one-off' uplift funding which became available to DSNI.

"DSNI was made fully aware of the 'one-off' nature of this additional funding."

She added: "Sport NI will continue to work to identify any other potential in-year funding opportunities for Disability Sport NI, as has been done successfully in previous years." Dr Grey said she wanted compromise as the budget reduction will have a "devastating impact on the lives of so many disabled people".

"We normally reach around 20,000 people but that will drop to 13,000 or less due to these disproportionate cuts," she said.

"We would like £40,000 - that would really keep alive and allow us to continue with the vital programmes we do for the most severely disabled people and the most vulnerable - the boccia grassroots programme and the wheelchair basketball programme, which is really flourishing." Disability Sport NI chief executive Kevin O'Neill said that "whole projects and services will be cut".

"The Fermanagh Inclusive Leisure Project, designed to get 2,000 disabled people active every year, is effectively gone," Mr O'Neill said.

"The Northern Ireland Boccia Programme, which is a new programme we run for severely disabled people, will have to be cut.

"Grassroots wheelchair activities will have to go.

"The Northern Ireland events Programme, I could go on and on. It's devastating.

"We don't like it but we understand cuts are inevitable in the current climate but we want £40,000 to protect the programmes we run for the most severely disabled people, the most vulnerable."

Sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin said it was regrettable budget cuts had been "imposed on everyone, including DSNI, by the British Government" and she "will continue to work to identify further funds in year for Disability Sport NI".

'Cuts mean we can't perform to our full potential'

Devan McMordie (17) from Belfast is an A-Level pupil at Grosvenor Grammar and a keen basketball player since 2012. 

"Basketball has made me more comfortable with who I am and accepting of my condition. Cuts mean we have not been training as much and we're not able to perform to our full potential.

"Before I joined Knights I felt sorry for myself because I only had able-bodied friends and felt a bit left out. The team is so close. It has really improved my confidence.

"I feel sorry for 13-year-olds with a severe disability who are not going to be able to have the opportunities I have had. It's about much more than sport. Stormont is discriminating against disability sport. The cuts are too much."

'To hear that it’s being chipped back is a travesty'

Stafford Lynn (47) from Ballyclare became involved in disability sports 17 years ago after he suffered a spinal injury in a motorbike accident.

"I was injured when Disability Sport was just launched. To see where it has come from grassroots to now with all the groups set up around Northern Ireland is absolutely fantastic. To hear it is going to be chipped back and cut away is an absolute travesty.

"Years ago people in wheelchairs were shunned and there was a stigma but nowadays it is different. With kids it brings them out socially and helps them interact. Sport is a fantastic rehabilitation tool. Without funding groups will close and stop. They need to have a hard look at what they're doing."

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