Transcript: The impact of Covid-19 on disability sports

An interview with Gavin MacLeod and Stephen McGuire.

Podcast Episode: The impact of Covid-19 on disability sports


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MM - Michael McEwan
GM - Gavin Macleod
SM - Stephen McGuire

MM Now on this podcast we’re going to be looking at the ways disability sport in Scotland has been affected by the coronavirus. So first up I spoke to Gavin Macleod. He is the chief executive of Scottish Disability Sport. Okay, so now we’re joined by Gavin Macleod, the Chief Executive of Scottish Disability Sport. So, Gavin, just kind of like give us an overview. I know that we’ve spoken to you a few years ago, you were on, but just give us a quick overview of the work that you do within disability sport Scotland.

GM Yeah, no problem, Michael, and thanks for the opportunity of coming on. Scottish Disability Sport is the recognised governing body for disability sport in Scotland. We’re multi-sport, so we work across a number of sports. We’re currently working with 37 of Scotland’s governing bodies. We’re also pan-disability in nature, working with athletes and participants with physical, sensory and learning disabilities. Our remit really is about engaging disabled people and supporting them to participate and compete in physical activity in sport of their choice and then helping them to meet their full potential, and then wrapped around that is an increasing amount of education and training that we run just around disability awareness, inclusion training, just trying to support coaches, teachers, volunteers, health workers, and to give them the skills, the confidence, to be able to include disabled people within their programmes effectively. So in a nutshell that’s us. We link in, as I said, to the governing bodies of sport very strongly. Increasingly athletes at a performance level feed into programmes run by those Scottish governing bodies and on into performance programmes at a UK level and onto the Paralympics. So yeah, a busy time up until the lockdown obviously.

MM Because Scottish Disability Sport is a kind of governing body for disability sport in Scotland and every year that you put on a whole list of various events up and down Scotland, whether that could be football and rugby, running, tennis, all the various sports.

GM Yeah.

MM So how is the impact on the Covid-19 in terms of you’re not running any of the sporting events at the moment?

GM Absolutely, Michael, the impact on our programmes and disability sport programmes has been the same as it’s been on sport in general. Very early on we did a risk assessment and took the decision very quickly to postpone or cancel all of our events, our squads, our education and training courses, right up until the end of June. So it was an easy decision to make to be honest with you, because we were bringing groups of people together the increased risk of spreading the virus, it was a no-brainer. We just had to cancel. We’re assessing at the moment what we do over the summer and to be honest with you even the longer term for the rest of 2020.

MM That kind of leads on nicely to my next question, Gavin, about this was meant to be a big summer of sport for disability sport when the Paralympics was coming up, but obviously the Paralympics has been now moved to next year, so what was the kind of feeling about the whole impact on like telling athletes the right information and keeping them up to date with if it’s going to be on or off?

GM Yeah. Well I think the IPC, the International Paralympic Committee, acted fairly swiftly. From what we saw in Scotland the communication was fairly clear and they made the decision to postpone, I think quite rightly, until next summer 2021. The impact is obviously devastating for the athletes concerned. You’ve trained for 4 years to peak for the Paralympic games, which every athlete would be doing across all of the sports, and then the lockdown, the lack of training, would have made it a really stressful period. So I think the decision is correct. The impact of the coronavirus we don’t know what that’s going to look like across the world and you have to consider the whole of the world in that scenario of the games, and the athletes have to be given time to return to performance training programmes and to get to the peak of their performance for the games. So to have done in later in the year I think would just have not been possible. So I think the correct decision was taken.

MM Tell us about when hopefully we go out of lockdown in a few months’ time, have you got any plans in place at the moment, ‘cause obviously you’re working with lots of various I would say talented athletes with disabilities, but they’ve also got kind of like some kind of health conditions as well. So can you just talk to us about what’s the structure or the plan going forward and how are you going to support people with the social distancing affecting us?

GM Yeah. Right, I mean the reality is we’ve been supporting them throughout the lockdown. Even though the guys have been self-isolating the same as everybody else, what we’ve been trying to do is to keep them engaged with their sport. So doing online workshops, we’ve ran a lockdown (unclear) league, we’ve had yoga sessions running individually, we’ve had mental health information imparted. So we’ve been trying to keep that engagement with the athletes throughout the programme and our local branches across the country have been doing something similar with the athletes that are at that engagement level and participation level across Scotland. So we’ve been trying to keep that engagement going. How and when we come out of lockdown, Michael, I have to say is still a little bit up in the air. We’re waiting for guidance obviously from the Scottish Government, the same as the rest of Scottish sport. We’re not working with the high performance Paralympic athletes. They’re working on high performance programmes through the UK governing bodies. So we’ll be working with squad athletes and local athletes who are competing at the Scottish level. So from our point of view they’ll be making a decision about when it’s safe for our squads to come back together. It’ll be making a decision around when it’s safe to have competitions and what level of competition, what size of competition. Some of our national championships are outdoor events, some of them are indoor, some of them are team sports, some of them are individual, so we’ll have to assess all of those and we’re starting that process actually this week in terms of looking at that recovery and back into regular participation and competition again.

MM And finally, do you think disability sport but also overall sport will kind of look slightly more different in the kind of future?

GM I think in the short-term, Michael, yeah. Undoubtedly sport I think will look different and disability sport is no different from that. We will have to adhere to all the safety protocols and guidelines that are required to be put in place, and as you mentioned, for some of our athletes with underlying health conditions we will have to consider that really carefully. It will look different certainly in the short-term. Hopefully longer-term we will recover to something that looks a little bit more like what we were used to, and I think that’s true of society in general as well as sport, but I think we’ll always now just be having a look over our shoulder just worrying that something like this will come up again, but the positive is that we’ve been through it and we’ve learned from the programmes and the protocols that we’ve put in place to try and support the athletes, and we’ll be able to do that again and hopefully improve on it if we have to, but fingers crossed, touch wood, we never have to again but who know.

MM Alright. Thanks, Gavin. And finally on this podcast as you know this was meant to be an Olympic and a Paralympics year, but it has been cancelled and it has been moved to next year because of the coronavirus. So I spoke to Stephen McGuire, who was going to the Paralympics to represent team GB at a sport called boccia. Stephen, first off can you tell us a bit about yourself?

SM Hi, Michael. First of all, thanks for having me. My name’s Stephen McGuire and I’ve been an athlete for Boccia UK for 16 years now, so I guess you can kind of call me the old man of the sport, the elder statesman. I don’t know if you know much about Boccia but it’s a very unique sport. It’s unique in that it’s a precision based tactical sport and it’s unique that we have no gender specific classifications and no Olympic equivalent, even though it’s in the Paralympics, where males and females compete on a level playing field. To give you a little bit of an example, we have four classifications which are based around athletes, their physical ability, and in the BC3 class we’ve got a female athlete from Hong Kong who’s currently ranked number two in the world, and in my class, which is BC4, the world number one is a lassie from Canada. So it’s quite unique that way.

MM So we were going to come on to speak about the para games in just a wee while, Stephen, but I wanted to find out about yourself at the moment. How are you coping with the whole kind of lockdown?

SM Lockdown has been a strange time for everyone, I think we can all agree there, but I think I’ve done well. I’ve adapted well. I’ve used my skills as an athlete to try and adapt to this new environment. I’ve been an athlete for as I said 16 years, so I’ve constantly had to evolve with like different playing styles, new equipment, through multiple periods throughout my career. So I’ve just tried to really adapt. There’s one element athletes and sport in general are not very good at is finding the time to reflect. For me generally, we work in a goal orientated environment. We try and achieve outcomes or deliver medal successes, but whether we achieve it or not, generally we start planning for what’s next. So this time has allowed me plenty of time to reflect on all the good things I suppose that I’ve achieved, and to be honest it’s ignited my enthusiasm just to get back on the court. I never thought I’d miss it so much as I actually have. I’ve adapted not too badly. At the beginning it was a little bit tough, when am I next going to compete, you start to think negatively that way, but I’ve got my routine now so it’s not too bad. I mean we can still train in the house, we can still do strength and conditioning sessions, tactical analysis. So in that regard, not much has changed.

MM I suppose what you were saying there, Stephen, was that you don’t appreciate life as much if you’re not involving in your sport boccia or kind of any sport, or maybe that would go about seeing your friends and family as well?

SM Absolutely, and don’t get me wrong, that’s huge, the fact that we’ve not got to see our loved ones, our friends and our family, my brothers and my dad and step mum. They’re only five, ten minutes away, but I’ve still not being able to see them for ten weeks. Our life through social media and platforms like Zoom and things like that, that’s became our lives for the last ten weeks.

MM Okay. So now let’s go back to speak about what you’re here to speak about, Stephen, about the Paralympics. Obviously it was stopped a couple of months ago because of the coronavirus and it’s been moved to next year. So how do you feel for that in terms of the Paralympics being moved to next year and how have you adapted to that because obviously you had to be in training camps for a few years kind of like leading up to it? so what has the change been like?

SM Yeah. well first of all as a sport we were in a situation where the qualification had been completed. That was all done on the 31st of December last year. So I know some sports still have the qualification left that’s still to be completed and with the lockdown it was looking like that might not be possible for them, but we had finished our campaign. There’s season 2020, it’s completely been cancelled. They’re trying to move everything, all our events, from this year to the next year to kind of follow the same pattern. So in many ways I would say that as a sport we are ahead of the game, but I absolutely welcomed the decision to postpone year 2020. Athletes from I think all parts of the world, we’ve trained and we’ve completed relentlessly just to qualify for the games. To hold the games this year with some of the countries or athletes that might not be able to attend, I think that would be unfair, or to have athletes like not having the appropriate training time to prepare, that would be unfair for everyone. Spectators want to see athletes perform at their best, don’t they?

MM Mmmhmm.

SM Athletes, we want fairness, we want equality when we’re competing. Countries need to take into consideration I guess the health and safety and the logistics behind all of us arriving and competing within one place. So of course from a personal perspective absolutely I was gutted because I had worked 4 years just to qualify. As a squad we had planned our lead into the games every morning, so to have that sort of taken away at the last moment was tough, certainly a blow, but the games in Tokyo has been postponed. It’s not cancelled, so that’s a real positive and I guess we’ve got another full year to prepare knowing that our qualification’s complete.

MM Tell us what are you doing at the moment in the ways of like how do you keep that momentum going, like involving in training?

SM Training is different, absolutely different. I was never home. I used to travel between the Emirates sports arena, Edinburgh, and through training camps constantly every three to four weeks, but now I train at home. I don’t have very much space in terms of distance to throw balls. That’s unfortunate. So maybe the maximum I’ve got is four or five metres, but I try to adapt and try and do what I can. Throughout this time our squad and the wider squad around us, they’ve written us home programmes from a range of flexibility work that we have to do, or strength and conditioning workouts that keep us going. I’ve purchased a handbike throughout this lockdown, which to be honest had been a lifesaver. It’s allowed me to continue to be active even when I’m staying at home, but as a GB squad we’re in regular contact. I’ve got four video calls each week. That covers a range of topics, Michael. Sometimes it might just be playing quizzes, sometimes it could be we do a group workout on a handbike on a Tuesday. That’s a virtual cycle, which is pretty cool. That’s probably the highlight of my week, but we also do like workshops on nutrition, mental health, and I have to say that our GB squad has been incredible in keeping us informed about what’s happening around the sport and helping us have some space, even with the times when we’re not really motivated to get up and get on our handbikes I guess.

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