Scottish Parliament – Members Debate

Wednesday 6th February 2019 saw another huge step in the development and progression of the SPFA. After several visits to the Scottish Parliament in 2018 and a presentation to the Cross Party Disability group chaired by MSP Jeremy Balfour, the SPFA were successful in obtaining a members debate within the Scottish Parliament.

Representatives from some of our Member clubs, National coach, SFA and SPFA Executive attended the Parliament to watch the debate unfold from the public gallery. We were delighted that those that could attend did so, demonstrating the commitment and support that Powerchair football has in Scotland.

On arrival at Parliament and having negotiated security, we were shown to the public gallery where we took our seats.

As 5pm drew closer we watched the chamber begin to fill, recognising many well-known faces in Scottish Politics. Unfortunately, it transpired the MSP’s were all coming in for a vote at the close of the day’s business. Once this took place many of the members left the chamber however we were pleased to see a strong support remaining behind from all parties for our debate.

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MSP Jeremy Balfour opened the debate and had been instrumental in raising the motion and gaining the necessary support required. Jeremy spent several minutes on his feet detailing many aspects of the work carried out by the SPFA over the past 4 years. He commended the Executive and the many volunteers who give up their time to support Powerchair Football in Scotland. Mr Balfour went on to outline the game and the equipment required to participate in the sport before moving on to some of the barriers encountered by players. These barriers included limited access to adequate sports facilities within Scotland and in particular access to Changing Places toilets within these sports centres.

Jeremy highlighted the current home of Scottish Powerchair Football, The Peak in Stirling pointing out to the chamber that the disabled changing/ toilet facilities currently fell well short of the standard required for many of our sports participants.

Mr Balfour went on to highlight the lack of support currently afforded by Health Boards in Scotland to allow participation at entry level by wheelchair users. The reluctance for these Health Boards to adjust settings in collaboration with the SPFA has seen a number of players give up football at an early stage through frustration with their NHS Powerchair. Simple changes to settings could dramatically enhance the player’s experience of the game leading to further engagement and most importantly enjoyment.

Bruce Crawford MSP took up the debate and spoke confidently in respect of The Peak, Sports Centre, based in his own constituency. Mr Crawford went to great lengths to highlight the number of disability sports currently provided by, or hosted at or near the venue. He appeared to somewhat miss the point, in that these athletes who are all regular users of the centre, deserve access to appropriate Changing Places standard toilet facilities. The lack of appropriate facilities can be a huge barrier to individuals wishing to take part in disability sport and we hope this is something the Peak, Active Stirling and other sports centres across Scotland can address in the coming months.

Next up was MSP Brian Whittle who was one of the first members of the chamber to visit a Powerchair Football competition. Mr Whittle entertained the members with his account of that day and how impressed he was at the skill and level of competition on show. He went on to emphasise the barriers to participation in sport and acknowledged that we must do better.

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It was the turn of Labour MSP Jackie Baillie next and she spoke passionately and with clear knowledge of the sport quoting participation figures across the UK as a whole and highlighting how far the SPFA have taken the sport in recent years in Scotland. She made mention of the current partnership with MDUK who sponsor both competitive leagues in Scotland. Ms Baillie went on to highlight the many health and wellbeing benefits of team sport participation and commended the many Scottish clubs for their commitment to providing access to the sport at all levels across Scotland. Finally, Jackie Baillie made mention of funding and directed her comments to Minister for Health and Sport, Joe Fitzpatrick. She highlighted the need for funding to be directed towards the SPFA and member Clubs to continue the growth and expansion seen over recent years in Scotland.

The penultimate member to address the chamber was MSP Alison Johnstone who highlighted Scotland’s talent past and present in terms of disability sport. Alison went on to congratulate the SPFA for all the work done to progress the sport in Scotland from Grassroots to a National team. She highlighted the SPFA’s desire to send Scottish players to international tournaments and for the hosting of a tournament on home soil. Alison went on to mention the desire to increase participation across Scotland, to ensure players from all areas have equitable access to our sport, regardless of location.

Finally, it was the turn of Minister for Health and Sport, Joe Fitzpatrick to close the debate. Mr Fitzpatrick has been a supporter of Powerchair Football in Scotland over the past year and informed the chamber he had the pleasure of attending the 2018 League Cup in his own constituency of Dundee. He spoke of his delight at seeing the players, officials and spectators all thoroughly enjoying themselves in a day of fierce competition, which resulted in the home team, Tayside Dynamos lifting the Cup in a thrilling final.

Mr Fitzpatrick acknowledged the need to ‘do better’ in terms of facilities for disabled individuals within sports centres across Scotland. He went on to highlight Scotland’s ‘National Game’ and congratulated the SFA and in particular David McCardle for the pioneering work done by the SFA in launching their Para Football strategy. The SPFA are grateful for the support and guidance received from David McCardle and the SFA over the last few years and continue to work closely with the organisation as our sport grows in popularity.

As Mr Fitzpatrick was drawing to a close, Jackie Baillie MSP attempted to gain further commitment from the Minister in terms of funding for our sport.

Unfortunately, Mr Fitzpatrick wasn’t forthcoming, however we hope his support and that of the Scottish Government will help the SPFA source funding streams in the near future. Having recently secured charitable status the SPFA Executive must now look to identify suitable funding avenues to support their 3-year development plan in Scotland.

As the evening drew to a close we had the opportunity to meet and thank MSP’s Jeremy Balfour and Brian Whittle for their support and contributions. Jackie Baillie MSP also took time to speak to our players and guests prior to our departure.

Overall, the evening was a success and we hope that we have continued to raise the profile of our Sport in a positive manner. As an organisation we must identify avenues that allow us to access funding to take Powerchair Football to individuals all over Scotland.

We have engaged with many enthusiastic individuals who see the benefits and importance of the work we are trying to achieve. One such individual is Scottish Advocacy Officer for Action Duchenne, Mr John Miller. It was John’s expert guidance and perseverance that successfully secured our place at the Scottish Parliament, and he has been instrumental in promoting our work with the Scottish Government. We cannot thank John enough for all of his hard work and dedication and he was rightly acknowledged by a number of MSP’s in the chamber on the evening of the debate. Without the many volunteers such as John, the sport of Powerchair Football would not be where it is today.

To view the Parliamentary debate in full please Click Here

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