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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 14 September 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Urgent Question, Health and Social Care, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Tokyo Paralympics


Contents


Tokyo Paralympics

I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and around the parliamentary campus. I ask members to take care to observe those measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please use the aisles and walkways only to access your seat and when moving around the chamber.

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00946, in the name of Karen Adam, on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, held from 24 August to 5 September 2021, for bringing people together from around the world and raising awareness of disabilities; congratulates the staff and volunteers whose tireless work makes this event possible; wishes good luck to the 33 Scots who are competing, and thanks them for the positive impact their inspiring endeavours have on society in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, Scotland and beyond.

17:31  

It is a privilege to speak to the motion tonight. I echo the sentiments of Maree Todd, the Cabinet Secretary for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, when she said that

“the Scottish athletes ... brought back a staggering amount of medals”

from Tokyo as part of ParalympicsGB. She also spoke of our pride in our athletes, and her hope that they would inspire others to take part in sport and perhaps to participate in future games. Everyone can share those sentiments, and I add my voice in congratulating all those who took part and supported the athletes in reaching their full potential: their coaches, clubs, families and others. A collective effort such as that creates a platform for Paralympians to excel not despite their disability, but because of their ability.

The 33 Scots in the ParalympicsGB team brought home 21 medals, which is an amazing hit rate. There were two gold, nine silver and 10 bronze medals, and the athletes all deserve recognition. As the MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, I highlight three individuals from the north-east in particular. The cyclist Neil Fachie is one of our most celebrated Paralympians—indeed, he is one of our most decorated athletes in general. He has an astonishing number of medals from the Paralympics, the track cycling world championships and the Commonwealth games, and in Tokyo, he claimed another gold.

The swimmer Toni Shaw has been massively successful recently, during the European and world para athletics championships, and he came home from Tokyo with a bronze medal. A third athlete from the north-east is the swimmer Conner Morrison, from Turriff. He started out with the Garioch Gators in Inverurie and progressed to the University of Aberdeen performance programme. He has been a medal winner at the world para swimming championships and the European para athletics championships, and also domestically. When he was interviewed before the Paralympic games, he was realistic about his medal hopes—he said that he was going to Tokyo

“for the experience and to put the best version of”

himself

“out there”.

He qualified from the heat to reach the final of the S14 100m breaststroke. There was no medal for him this time, but the motion refers to the “positive impact” of the “inspiring endeavours” of Conner and his fellow athletes on the people in Banffshire and Buchan Coast, around the rest of Scotland and beyond. From Turriff to Tokyo is a story with all that positive impact and inspiration, and the same goes for every other athlete at the games. It is not just about the medals.

I am sorry to strike a sombre note now, but I have to be clear that when it comes to disabled people and sport, there are challenges too. It would be remiss of me not to mention the challenges that are faced by the deaf community when it comes to participation. Although deaf people are unable to take part in the Paralympics unless they have another disability, they still face disadvantages in participating in sports. I hope that, as the child of a deaf adult, or a CODA, I can use my platform to highlight those issues during my time in Parliament.

Just last month, the University of the West of Scotland and the Observatory for Sport in Scotland published a research paper by two professors, Richard Davison and Gayle McPherson, who revealed—shockingly—that only 12 per cent of disabled children in Scotland had taken part in sport during the relevant research period, as opposed to 81 per cent of non-disabled children. The gap closes to some degree in adulthood, but not nearly enough.

Meanwhile the gap for disabled adults who are living in poverty is stark. Last year, Professor Tess Kay of the University of Stirling published a research review entitled “Sport and social inequality”, which showed that low family income and poverty was the main driver in whether people of all ages participated in sport. Sadly, it has long been recognised that a household with a disabled person is much more likely to be a household in poverty. Members do not have to take my word for it—they can ask charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Disability Rights UK and others.

The implications for participation in sport are clear, and there is a bigger point to make. Life for disabled people in Scotland, whether their impairment is intellectual or physical, should be the same as life for everyone in Scotland: accessible, equal and inclusive. However, we still have some way to go.

The Scottish Government is taking positive action on disability, and on sport and active living more generally. I will not read out the relevant pages of the programme for government, which will come as a relief to some, but I note that the Scotland-wide launch of the child disability payment and the adult disability payment, administered by Social Security Scotland, should make a significant difference for disabled people.

The Scottish Government will double investment in sport and active living to £100 million a year by the end of the current session of Parliament, which is excellent news. The more we level the playing field, the more disabled people will have the chance to take part in sport at a grass-roots level. As numbers rise, more talent will be identified. Not everyone will get a chance to go to the Paralympics, but taking part in sport is good in itself for fitness, self-esteem, social connections and much more. Whether we are disabled or not, and whether we are focused on gold at the Paralympics or just having a more active life, we can all be inspired by the example that has been set by Conner Morrison of Turriff and all the other Paralympians. Whether they are medal winners or not, they are an inspiration for us to put the best version of ourselves out there.

It is important that we recognise the achievements of those Paralympians and that we celebrate with them, while not forgetting to ensure that everyone in society has an opportunity to fulfil their full potential. We need adequate support—we all need support at some point in our life, at various levels and to varying degrees.

If we can ensure a society where equalities are at the heart of everything that we do, then we can create a society where thriving is possible, where celebrating each other and our achievements contributes to a health and wellbeing economy, and where purpose and joy in life prevails. I doubt that anyone could argue with that vision: inclusion and equalities always, and supporting each other to put the best version of ourselves out there.

17:40  

I thank Karen Adam for securing the debate, and I join my colleagues in congratulating the whole of team GB after a wonderful success this summer. A wide range of athletes competed across a vast number of sports. Each and every one of them exemplified the British spirit and showed the best of what our country has to offer. I am sure that the whole chamber will join me in communicating our utmost pride and thanks to them—from our most senior and decorated representatives to those who made their Olympic debut this summer.

It is difficult to pick out individuals, but Sarah Storey became our most decorated Paralympian in history. Not only has her career spanned an incredible eight games over almost three decades, but her honours traverse two very different sports: swimming and cycling. I wish to convey Sarah and all our athletes from both games our warm congratulations.

I will briefly take a moment to draw attention to the unfortunate fact that there was notably less coverage of the Paralympics than there was of the Olympics. Whether in print or online, it felt like we had to do more work to find coverage beyond live action than we did just one month previously. Where were the athletes plastered over the front pages of the newspapers? There was nothing. The level of analysis and punditry outside the live broadcasts left many of us feeling hard done by, especially after the incredible broadcasting efforts a month before.

The International Paralympic Committee says that it derives its name from the Greek word “pa??”, which, as I am sure you know, Presiding Officer, means “beside” or “alongside”, inferring that the two games exist as peers. As wonderful as the Paralympics have been this year, it is clear that the name is not yet being lived up to. I am sure that everyone in the chamber would join me in looking forward to a more inclusive future, not only in three years’ time in Paris but in continuing support for different activities and sports.

I will make one final point. I remind members—I am sure that most of us do not need reminding—that an athlete is immense for what they do. Too often, people compare apples with oranges. I have often heard the comment, “If an athlete with an amputee leg can run 100m in X time, why should disabled people be given benefits instead of just getting a job?” That represents a way of thinking that reduces any kind of worth that a disabled person could have to their ability to excel, either in the sports world or in full-time employment. Such comparisons are similar to wondering why every able-bodied person cannot run a sub-10-second 100m when Usain Bolt can do it.

The reality is that humans all have different abilities and excel in different fields. Disabled people’s contributions to society are varied and individual. They are special, and they are not necessarily quantifiable by their place in the permanent workforce. Many disabled people do a lot of volunteer work, because that kind of low-intensity job is much more suited to their needs and abilities. It would of course be difficult to argue that society could function without the contribution of our amazing volunteer sector—yet it often does not get the same recognition.

In short, I encourage people to think twice before making such comments in the future—thinking of comparisons with Usain Bolt, like a disabled person not wishing to be compared with Sarah Storey and her teammates. We all contribute differently to society, and we must recognise that fact and accept that different people have different metrics of success.

I again congratulate everyone who took part in the Paralympics, and I wish them success for what happens next in their lives. I look forward to seeing many of them compete in Paris in three years’ time.

17:45  

I thank my colleague Karen Adam for securing the debate. The 2020 Paralympics may have come to an end, but the motivation and inspiration that this year’s event has instilled in us continue to live on. The core Paralympic values at the heart of the Paralympic movement are courage, determination, inspiration and equality, and there was certainly an abundance of each of those values on display in Tokyo this year.

This year, Tokyo became the first city to have staged two Paralympic games. It hosted the 1964 event, with 375 athletes from 21 nations taking part in nine sports, and the 2020 event saw around 4,400 athletes from 162 national Paralympic committees competing in 539 medal events across 22 sports—the largest number of athletes to have competed in the games.

In the past 57 years, events, disciplines and athletes’ eligibility have continually evolved, making the Paralympic games one of the biggest events in the international sports calendar, with international recognition and global media coverage. The achievement of our 33 Scottish athletes and their contribution to the success of team GB must be celebrated. With an amazing 42 per cent of them winning medals and a continued improvement on the medal return for Scotland, beating the Rio 2016 and London 2012 medal tallies, they are clearly a force to be reckoned with. I was personally delighted to see an impressive number of Fifers in the team—and I will come back to them shortly.

There have been many achievements, and statistics from Scottish Disability Sport show that athletes with disabilities still experience the lowest participation levels in sport and physical activity, and they have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore imperative that we build on the positivity of the 2020 summer games and work on meeting the individual needs of disabled people, increasing engagement in physical activity and sport. While we have come a long way and have made positive steps, common barriers to participation still exist, and they must be tackled.

Over the years, the games and the men and women who represent their countries at the highest level in their sport have played an important role in transforming attitudes towards people with disabilities and in promoting a more inclusive society, but local groups and clubs are the grass roots: it is at a community level that our future athletes start their journey, and they must be our focus.

That leads me on nicely to the work of Disability Sport Fife and our Fife athletes. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to highlight their contribution at Tokyo 2020. Disability Sport Fife has been leading the development of inclusive sport and active recreation for children, young people and adults with physical, sensory and learning disabilities across Fife for 40 years. It has supported more than 25 members to become GB summer and winter Paralympians and to achieve enormous success in the European and world championships. When we hear that Disability Sport Fife athletic members and coaches have represented their country at every Paralympic games since 1984 and that six DSF members were among the first 20 Scots to be inducted into the Scottish Disability Sport hall of fame in 2012, we realise just how important local sport is to our sports at a national level.

Athletes Owen Miller and Derek Rae are both proud members of DSF, and they have helped to raise its profile worldwide. Owen headed to Tokyo in August to make his debut as a Paralympian, and he left having realised his dream, winning a gold medal in the men’s 1,500m T20. Derek Rae is well known locally and has been flying the flag for Kirkcaldy and Fife for a number of years now, with a number of celebrated sporting achievements under his belt, including the world para athletics marathon world cup, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. I commend Owen, Derek and the whole squad for their tireless, never-ending commitment to training and their sport. They are all fantastic role models for the next generation.

While stereotypes and judgments are still the reality for far too many people living with disabilities, the Paralympic games continue to play a fundamental role in challenging closed-minded attitudes about differences by promoting inclusivity and by setting a new benchmark for what is thought to be possible. I look forward to the next decade bringing about even more positive change and increased participation as we continue to work together to break down barriers and to provide more opportunities for all of our future Paralympic athletes to get out there, find the sport that they love and fulfil their potential.

17:49  

I, too, congratulate Karen Adam on securing the debate. The Tokyo Paralympics were as exciting and inspiring as ever, bringing an end to a summer of sport in the most remarkable of ways. It was great to see team GB perform so well, coming second in the medal table with an excellent 124 medals, with the 33-strong Scottish contingent contributing 21 of those medals—the best performance by Scots at a Paralympic games since Sydney 2000—and winning medals in 18 of the 22 sports. Team GB highlighted the wide array of talent that we have at our disposal, succeeding at the highest level and competing against the very best. We should be so proud of all our Paralympians for the effort that they and their teams put in during the most difficult of times, and we should congratulate them, as we are doing in this debate.

Our Paralympians are truly inspirational. Many of them faced adversity in childhood or perhaps in later life, but all have overcome barriers that in years gone by would have stopped them from participating in sport. It is encouraging that sport in 2021 is so inclusive. We have a long way to go, but the 2021 games showcased the very best talent, which has come from years of hard work and people often facing numerous setbacks. I believe that more people are recognising the importance of the Paralympic games now than before, and it is crucial that we continue to highlight how vital that breakthrough is to breaking down barriers and tackling stigma.

There is still work to be done. We have to ensure that sport is accessible to everyone. That means making sport accessible to disabled people and ensuring that having a disability does not act as a barrier to an individual’s ambitions or opportunities. More investment is needed in inclusive sport to ensure that no one is left behind and it is the responsibility of politicians, the media and wider society to highlight the positive impact that sport can have. It is our collective responsibility to do that, because, as mentioned in the motion, events such as the Paralympics bring people together—sport brings people together. To undervalue the positive impact that sport has on society would be a mistake.

Ahead of today’s debate, RNIB Scotland set out some key asks, including increasing funding for disabled sport, such as sports adapted for people with sight loss, for example tandem cycling and guided running, and for introductory sessions and classes for more advanced participants. That should remind us that there remains a long way to go to ensure that sport is accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities. Moreover, sportscotland, which has invested around £3 million to support Scottish disability sport since the Rio Olympics in 2016, noted that disabled athletes still face significant challenges that require joint working in order to be overcome.

The Tokyo Paralympics was a celebration of talent, diversity, inclusion and community and we can all agree that it was a joy to watch. As we have all said, it was a joy to see team GB athletes, who with their coaches, families and all the volunteers from local community sports clubs deserve a great deal of credit for making the sacrifices that they have to bring about such success. It is right that we have the opportunity to commend that success. Rather than seeing this debate as an end, it should be a stepping stone towards ensuring that Parliament gives sport and inclusive sport the consideration and investment that they deserve.

17:54  

I, too, congratulate Karen Adam on securing time in the chamber for the debate and thank her for giving me another opportunity to talk sport in this place. Two weeks in a row: my cup runneth over. When I spoke in my members’ business debate last week, I highlighted the incredible achievements of all the athletes in the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team in both the Olympics and the Paralympics and I also talked about the huge contribution made by Scotland to that team.

Since then, Gordon Reid, fresh from winning two medals in the wheelchair tennis in Tokyo, has gone on to win the doubles with his partner in the US open and, in doing so, now holds the grand slam in tennis, because he has won all four slam events in the same calendar year. That is a feat that the mighty Djokovic failed to achieve at the weekend, so it is a truly remarkable achievement.

I talked about both the Olympics and the Paralympics in my members’ business debate last week, and I did so on purpose, because when we watch either event we are witnessing elite sport. I appreciate what Karen Adam said in her motion about the inspiring way in which Paralympic athletes raise awareness of disability. She is right, of course: the athletes help to override the public’s preconceptions about what can be done. London 2012 was a watershed moment in presenting the Paralympics to a global audience.

However, I say again that when we watch the Paralympics we are witnessing elite sport, just as we are doing when we watch the Olympics or any other international competition—disability has nothing to do with it. Paralympic athletes are supremely talented and they work just as hard and are just as fit as other sportspeople. Their approach to training and development is no different. The support network that I spoke about last week is just as important—it might even be more important.

I have coached para athletes, and my approach has been the same: to recognise that every athlete is different, has different strengths and weaknesses, responds to different inputs and must ultimately compete in events that have different physiological requirements. I remember coaching an international athlete who has cerebral palsy. The Great Britain coach asked me how I would make allowances for his disability, and I said that the athlete in question would get exactly the same attention and treatment as the rest of the squad. The athlete did the same sessions as the rest of the squad, at the same time, he suffered the same pain as the rest of the squad and he got the same sympathy as the rest of the squad—by which I mean none. That was exactly how he wanted to be treated—the same as everyone else, because he is an international athlete, like everyone else.

If members have any doubt about the skills of para athletes, let me refer them to the day when MSPs took on the Scottish powerchair football team and, within 10 minutes, were 6-0 down. Some of us are still traumatised by that. It just shows that doing sport requires talent, training and dedication—and that people who do not train get smothered.

We need to consider how accessible sport, particularly disability sport, is to everyone. Team members of the ??Ayrshire Tigers Powerchair Football Club face issues that are mainly to do with transport to training and competitions. There are players who want to participate but have no means of getting around. In last week’s debate, we discussed the importance of sport to participants’ physical and mental health, and we have a duty to enable people to participate. As I said last week, sport is grossly underfunded in this country, when we consider what we spend on health and education.

Last week, Christine Grahame highlighted the disparity between support for Olympic and Paralympic sport. She was right, but we must appreciate that para sport is in its infancy, compared with Olympic sport. It is catching up at pace. Although we have a long way to go in recognising the need to properly support sport in general and para sport in particular, we should note that team GB and Northern Ireland finished second in the medals table, so perhaps we are doing more than many other countries are doing to develop para sport. The situation is encouraging, but there is so much more that we could be doing.

I again thank Karen Adam for bringing this debate to the chamber.

Thank you, Mr Whittle. I caution you against revealing the scores and performances of the Scottish Parliament football team. The risk of reputational damage is high.

17:58  

It is a great pleasure to follow Brian Whittle—although I think that a young lady who did remarkably well at the tennis recently probably deserves a mention. I thank Karen Adam for securing the debate.

The Paralympics have been around for a long time—the games date back to 1948, when the Stoke Mandeville games were first held, and they became the Paralympics in 1960.

As many other members have done, I thank the coaches, families and supporting organisations that surround our Paralympians. I put on record my awe—and I mean awe—at the achievements of Samantha Kinghorn, Libby Clegg MBE, Stephen Clegg, Micky Yule and Maria Lyle.

I would like to take the short time that I have to draw attention to Maria Lyle, because her place in East Lothian history is already secured. If people look at her Twitter account, which I used today more for humour than for research, they will see that she calls herself

“Your average Scottish lassie with dodgy legs”.

She then just happens to say that she is a

“Paralympic, World, Commonwealth & European medallist”,

which is not bad.

Her mum was a physical education teacher and, at primary school, got her to do the bleep test, which is a fitness programme. Maria says:

“I managed to finish the test and be the last one standing. That was the first time I ever felt that feeling of success and being good at something. I’ve never looked back since.”

As a former primary school teacher, I can say with authority that the bleep test is not easy.

Maria won team GB’s first athletics medal of the Tokyo games, securing the bronze in the women’s 100m T35. She began running at the age of nine, when she joined Dunbar running club. She began to compete locally and nationally in sprint events. In July 2012, at the mere age of 12, she posted a world-record time of 32.37 seconds in the 200m at the Birmingham games. Unfortunately, that could not count because, as she was only 12, she was too young to have a disability listing. She had to wait for that, but she kept improving.

In 2014, she was classified as a T35 athlete. That February, she went to Dubai and entered the 100m and 200m sprints. She won gold in both events, running the 100m in 14.58 seconds, which was a personal best, and running the 200m in 31.01 seconds, beating the lady who had taken the gold previously because of her age. That May, she competed at the Bedford international open and set another world record—she keeps setting world records—of 14.63 seconds in the 100m. Slightly later, she surpassed her own world record in the 200m with a time of 30.7 seconds. Obviously, there was then the Tokyo games.

Maria is a beacon who should be cheered and held up as a symbol of what can be achieved. I echo Jeremy Balfour’s call for parity in relation to such athletes. Claire Slowther, who is Dunbar grammar school’s headteacher, wrote:

“What an awesome start to our Friday, all students had the privilege of watching a live interview with former student and Paralympic Superstar, @Lyle_Maria. Our sports ambassadors did a great job of interviewing Maria and her answers were honest, insightful and inspiring”.

That is what is truly important.

We have heard about the challenges that the sport faces and that people with disabilities face, particularly during Covid. I will quickly mention Scottish Disability Sport’s activity inclusion model, which allows for changes to be made, and its young persons sport panel.

I do not want to be negative—look at what has been achieved. However, that is a small part of what we still need to achieve in sport, in employment, in care, in schools and in our communities.

I finish with a reminder of what Maria has said:

“Enjoy your sport and remember it’s not everything. Make sure there is a balance in your life.”

Wise words, indeed.

18:03  

I thank Karen Adam and all the other members who have spoken.

Scottish Disability Sport and its partners across sport governance, local authorities, health, education and beyond continue to make great strides in supporting inclusion in physical activity and sport. I commend them for their work.

My speech is based around the personal experience and recollections of one woman from the Uddingston and Bellshill constituency. This incredible woman is a valued national health service worker, with almost 30 years of service, and her experience of supporting our Scottish triathlon para athletes during the Tokyo Olympics really touched me. It demonstrates that success should not be measured only in gold, silver or bronze medals, which is a point that my friend Karen Adam also made.

From my constituent’s point of view, many things stood out, from the Japanese hosts and local organisers, who all did an incredible job, to the build for the para triathlon site, which incorporated platforms over sand and water, with ramps and bridges more than 1.5km long—it was truly awesome from an engineering perspective.

The warmth of the hosts and volunteers and their wish to make sure that everyone was comfortable was heartwarming, with every one of them extending invites to the whole team urging them to return once Covid has passed to fully experience their wonderful country and culture in all its richness. I certainly hope that that is possible soon.

The technical teams were made up of international colleagues from across the world, with many having met at previous games. However, Tokyo was their first meeting in two years, and my resident rates them as some of the warmest, most life affirming people we could ever want to meet. They often describe themselves as technical family. She also talked to me about the daily health surveillance app that played its part in protecting against Covid-19, and the challenges around restrictions, training disruption, and adjusting to the heat and humidity, which is not something that we Scottish people are used to.

Travel was a particular challenge. The baggage handlers carefully managed the specialist kit—handcyles, racing chairs and specialist bikes—being very aware that those items would not be easily replaced if damaged. Despite all those pressures, I am told that our athletes were outstanding at every point.

Sadly, the grandstand was empty of the usual spectators, with family and friends sorely missed by all. However, the support personnel and other athletes cheered as loudly as they could at every event, making as much noise as humanly possible to show their backing for one another.

I am that sure that everyone will agree that our para athletes deserve huge respect and admiration. It is great that they are entering the mainstream and being recognised as elite in their own right, which is long overdue. I am told that they are grateful to Channel 4 for helping to raise their profile. For me, that is yet another reason to hope that attempts to sell off Channel 4 fail.

Para athletes have faced bigger challenges than most of us could ever imagine. As they cheered each other over the line to an emotional finish, officials, photographers and medics discreetly wiped tears away from their eyes—an unforgettable experience and a real show of solidarity.

Let us hope that elite pathway opportunities for para athletes continue to grow, that opportunities to participate in disability sport continue to grow, and that the reach and power of sport continue to grow .

Interestingly, Brexit was a hot topic among European Union, Commonwealth and Irish officials, with many keen to welcome an independent Scotland back into the EU. It is good to hear that our friends are leaving a light on for Scotland, and I hope that the next Paralympics will host a full indy Scotland team. I am sure that that does not surprise anybody, whether they agree with me or not.

I thank the incredible local woman who shared her story with me, and applaud the inspiring Tokyo para athletes. May they go from strength to strength as the Paris games approach.

18:07  

I am absolutely delighted to close this debate for the Scottish Government. I thank Karen Adam for lodging the motion, and all those who contributed to the debate.

Last week, we had the opportunity to focus on the Olympics. I am delighted that, this week, we have the opportunity to focus on the achievements of our Scottish Paralympians and all those who are involved in disability sport. I put on record our congratulations to the organising committee, the International Olympic Committee, and of course the Japanese Government for putting on such a wonderful games, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

As others mentioned, Scottish athletes on ParalympicsGB made history at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games by winning an amazing 21 medals—that is greater than the number of medals won at both the London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, and the highest number won by Scottish athletes since Sydney in 2000.

As others have done, I give special mention to Fin Graham from Strathpeffer in my constituency, who won silver in the C3 3,000m individual pursuit as well as silver in the C1-C3 road race—what an achievement.

Of course, those performances and medals are a result of years of hard work and commitment from the athletes, their coaches and wider support team. I live in Strathpeffer and I have watched Fin grow up. He went to school along with my children. It is particularly pleasing to witness first hand the connection that our communities feel with our athletes. We see the years of work, we feel a part of it, and we are inspired by them. What is happening in my home village of Strathpeffer is being replicated all over Scotland. As we said, Scots punched above our weight on team GB this year, and that pride is being felt in many communities right across Scotland.

I thank our sport governing bodies—Scottish Disability Sport, sportscotland, including the institute of sport, UK Sport, the British Paralympic Association and the national lottery—for their continued work to support our athletes. As we know—other members have mentioned this subject—disabled athletes often face significant challenges above those that non-disabled athletes face. The para initiative group was created by sportscotland in 2017 to improve the opportunities for para athletes and to enable more of them to make progress in performance sport.

How everyone in Scotland can benefit from sport is celebrated in sportscotland’s sport for life corporate strategy, which sets out sportscotland’s commitment to inclusion. A key element of improving sporting opportunities for all disabled people is our relationship with Scottish Disability Sport, which is the co-ordinating body for all sports. Scottish Disability Sport is for people of all ages and abilities with a physical, sensory or learning disability. During the pandemic, it has developed a suite of online projects and programmes to meet the identified needs of volunteers, coaches, participants and athletes. They have included virtual para sport days to enable families to get involved and support mental wellbeing; a varied programme of daily activity, called the young start programme; and the challenge a Paralympian programme, in which Scottish Paralympians have provided short videos containing advice and inspirational messages.

We know that the pandemic has had a particularly significant impact on disabled athletes and participants, many of whom have had to shield for a long time. I fundamentally believe that sport should be available to everyone, without any barriers. It is a powerful tool to improve our physical and mental health and bring communities together.

Our programme for government, which was announced last week, sets out how we aim to address the deep-seated inequalities in our society and create a fair and equal society for all. It commits us to doubling investment in sport and active living to £100 million a year by the end of this parliamentary session. That investment will enable us to rebuild capacity and resilience in the sector following the pandemic and ensure that we address inequalities in access to physical activity and sport. As members will be aware, the priority will be to support participation across all groups and to tackle inequalities. We will work with sportscotland and organisations and individuals throughout Scotland to break down the barriers that keep too many people from leading active lives, including some of the barriers that we have touched on.

I am really pleased that Karen Adam recognised volunteers in her motion. I am aware of the thousands of people throughout Scotland who volunteer to give people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to participate in sport and physical exercise. Sports clubs are often in a unique position in communities. Since I became the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, I have been impressed by the conversations that I have had with the sector about its commitment to breaking down barriers to activities. It is often volunteers in a variety of roles in clubs who contribute to breaking down the barriers and help to make sport and physical activity accessible for all.

In conclusion, I once again thank everyone involved in team GB, our inspiring Paralympic athletes, our sporting sector, and especially the thousands of volunteers who make a difference every week. The Birmingham Commonwealth games will be in 2022. Our para athletes will look to build on the successes on the Gold Coast in those games. The Glasgow Commonwealth games were, of course, the first to have para and able-bodied athletes competing in the same programme. In only three years’ time, we will again be supporting team GB at the Paris Paralympics. I look forward to working with partners throughout the sporting sector to address inequalities in access to physical activity and sport and our aspirations to become a more active, healthier and fairer nation.

I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate, and I thank Karen Adam for lodging the motion.

Meeting closed at 18:14.