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Background

The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be the first time since 2000 that athletes with a learning disability are allowed to compete. All athletes with a learning disability have been barred from competing at all International Paralympic Committee (IPC)-sanctioned events since Sydney 2000.

The Sydney Paralympic Games was the first opportunity for athletes with learning disabilities to participate in a complete programme of events alongside other disabled athletes. However it emerged that ten of the twelve players in the gold medal-winning Spanish basketball team did not have a learning disability. As a consequence, the Spanish team was stripped of its medals and the IPC banned all athletes with learning disabilities from paralympic sport. The impact of the ban was far-reaching. Sport for people with learning disabilities in the UK and around the world has since struggled to develop at an appropriate level, with funding and training opportunities severely affected.

The Paralympic Games represents the pinnacle of high performance sport and is an ambition that many competitive athletes dream of and work towards. This was taken away from athletes with learning disabilities. Many British athletes with a learning disability became very disillusioned and began dropping out of sport altogether. Chris Pugh, for example, who competed at Sydney 2000 and who held two world records in swimming events, gave up training after being told that he was barred from competing in Beijing in 2008. Organisations such as The UK Sport Association for People with Learning Disability (UKSA) and Mencap lobbied in the UK and internationally for the removal of this ban.