Updated: Monday, 19th August 2019 @ 10:17am

Manchester's power chair enthusiasts hope for Paralympic opportunity

Manchester's power chair enthusiasts hope for Paralympic opportunity

By John Dickens

Manchester’s power chair football clubs could receive a much needed financial boost if the sport wins the battle to be part of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) governing body is currently reviewing seven applications and will meet in Guangzhou, China on 11 December to decide which sports will be included.

The bids including badminton, golf and taekwondo were submitted to the IPC in July and will be considered alongside the 20 sports that will be played at London 2012.

Wheelchair Football Association Secretary Adam Parry, also Sports Development Officer at Percy Hedley Sports Academy for Disability Sports in Newcastle, worked preparing the bid for eight months.

He said: “If the sport gets Paralympics accreditation it’s only going to get bigger.

“If we gained Paralympic recognition it would give us more sway with the FA and other organisations like UK Sport to secure much-needed funding.”

With over 20 teams in the England National league – compared to two in 2004 – the sport’s popularity has motored in recent years.

The North West League is now in its second year and consists of Manchester teams Bolton Bullets, Oakwood FC (based in Eccles) and Sale United – with Oldham Wheelies also looking to establish a team.

Bolton Bullets Secretary and founding member Claire Callow got involved in power chair football through her disabled son.

She said: “There are very few opportunities in sport for kids in electric wheelchairs so it means kids want to do it 110 percent because they don't get a chance to join in anything else.

”The enjoyment and laughter they get from participating - it really bolsters not only their confidence but also their condition.”

The club was established after former Bolton Wanderers player Glenn Keeley introduced the sport into Sharples Secondary School in Bolton, where five players used powered wheelchairs.

Now it has players travelling from Cumbria, Rochdale and Stoke and played a major role in establishing the North West League.

But the prices involved in competing are a huge barrier the sport needs to overcome to continue to grow.

An average power chair, which needs two specialised motors and a fan, can cost around £4,500 with the average cost for a player each season is £1,200.

Eric Malkin, owner of Five Towns wheelchair mobility shop in Stoke-on-Trent, works closely with power chair players to help provide the specially-made chairs.

He said: “Funding is difficult in this economic climate – It really is hard work finding the funding but the end results are fantastic.

“It is a fantastic sport for kids in wheelchairs – it changes lives.

“But it’s something I’m passionate about because I have seen so many kids get so much reward.”

And Jackie Newing, administrator for the National Association of Disabled Supporters, applauded the thriving opportunities in Manchester.

“It is fantastic to have something local that encourages more people to join in - rather than having to travel fifty miles to find the nearest club,” she said.

“If you have got multiple clubs in one area it certainly encourages more people to get involved and keep active which is what we certainly promote to our members.”