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TX: 16.09.08 2040-2100
PRESENTERS: MANI DJAZMI AND PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL
Good evening. As promised this week's programme will be all about the Paralympics in Beijing. Peter White's been there for a fortnight now following the action and Pete with one more day to go what kind of a games will these be for Paralympics GB?
Well can I just tell you first, this is the first time I've ever done the In Touch programme from my bedroom - I just wanted to share that with the listeners, so they can have their image about them because I won't explain - bother to explain why, it's just logistics.
It's been a really good games for the Paralympics GB team in general. I mean we - people were talking about a target of around 35 golds, we are over 40 now with a day to go. There are still some chances of others. And the point is really that we've gone above our target. So generally I would say the GB team would be pretty pleased with itself.
Now I get e-mails everyday flooding into my inbox from the British Paralympic Association heralding the latest successes but I notice that not too many visually-impaired successes are being trumpeted.
No that's absolutely right, I mean I think we indicated that last week and perhaps it's significant that I can't add all that many successes to the ones I told you about. I mean I was able to tell you about cyclist Aileen McGlynn's gold, Libby Clegg the sprinter's silver, we have another cycling medal and we've got a judo medal but really you're right, Mani, medals won by visually-impaired people used to be a major component of our success as a GB team. I mean no medals this time in the swimming pool, which is almost unbelievable, it makes you pine for days gone by and this highly successful performer.
Clip from Barcelona Games
Holmes leads by about a metre. Nasmin from Sweden's still there but it's going to be Holmes, Holmes is going to win the 50 free and he does - new world record. Chris Holmes wins his second Paralympic gold medal.
Which I think must have been in Barcelona. But I mean what is going wrong? Joining me is Tim Reddish, a former champion swimmer himself, totally blind, a coach and performance director for British Disability Swimming.
I mean Tim you were a colleague of Chris Holmes and he wasn't the only one then was he, I mean there were a whole clutch of successful blind swimmers?
No he wasn't, I was around then, I was in that same race as Chris actually, I wasn't a freestyle, I was a fly swimmer. But they were the good days when we had a good - at least six to eight athletes or even more on the team of which the majority of them would come back with medals of different colours and it's been a bit of a decline since really '96 and it's very, very frustrating because I believe there are athletes out there, we just need to find them and get them involved in our sport.
And I mean we will go into this in more detail but in a nutshell do you know what might be wrong?
I don't know whether it's wrong or right, I think a frustration for me is that there are more and more visually-impaired people out there in mainstream education, in mainstream society, which is right, that's where we want to be but we need to know where they are because I don't think they are aware of the opportunities that there are for them and also I think some of them now don't realise that they may have the minimal impairment to be able to participate in sport.
Well the same problem relates to all visually-impaired sport, as I've indicated by the kind of performances we've heard about. I told you last week about the five a side soccer team's rather fitful start to the games - losing badly against China, then beating Korea. It hasn't got too much better in the last week, they have since lost a game they thought they ought to have won against Spain and though they were hoping for a medal tomorrow they play for fifth or sixth place in the tournament. But the team's coach, Tony Larkin, recognises that if they want to be the best - and they do - they now have some huge hurdles to get over.
We've been a little bit inconsistent. We played well against Korea, we played well against Spain - we were winning one/nil with about 12 minutes to go and we had a mad two or three minutes and then we got Brazil at their best really, we were always chasing the game. We've had lapses of concentration. And we've played against Argentina and I think the score line flattered them but we had quite a number of chances, I asked the lads for performance and they did that really. So we've learnt from this and we've got to - once this is over - we've got to have time to reflect and look to see well how can we catch these countries up. Because I think what's happened now you've got China who've come from nowhere, we played them last year in the tournament and they've got a completely new squad. And you've got China and Brazil up there now and then you've got Argentina, Spain, ourselves and Korea - there's not a great deal between us but we've got a lot of catching up to Brazil and China.
What about this question of recruitment and the fact that you know special schools now are rarer, there are less people - how much of a problem is recruitment for you?
Well it's [indistinct word], if I just give you an example, you know, I was talking to the Brazilian coach and they've got over 60-80 blind teams playing throughout Brazil, they've got a league for under-16s, they've got a development programme and they've got a massive catchment thing and that's one of the reasons with our lads where some of them have got in that comfort zone where they know we haven't got the players to replace them. Obviously with a lot of these specialist schools closing now a lot of - not only blind - other disabilities are going into mainstream and I don't want to knock mainstream when it comes to PE they're getting lost in the sense that they're not being able to do football, running and we need to sort of get these youngsters at a younger age.
Can I ask you specifically about China because we came out to China early on and we didn't see the visually-impaired football team but we did see the cerebral palsy team. They were in the Shunin camp, they'd been there for several weeks when we went there in April, they were going to be there until September, I mean that kind of level of consistency you can't match that can you?
No, not at the moment. Talking to coaches what they've done, they've started off with about 40 blind players and they've been working with them and have got that down to 20 now and they've had them for months on end.
Can I just put a point to you that a sighted journalist put to me, who hadn't seen a lot of blind football but he went to the China game and he said they almost seemed to be playing a different method, in the sense they were almost holding the ball between their feet and he said what our team were trying to do was what feels like playing football properly, you know pushing the ball ahead, dribbling it, playing it like they play in the premiership - is that true and do you have to therefore learn from this and adapt your methods?
Yeah the Chinese obviously with lots of practise the ball seemed to be sticking to their feet and they move very quickly. I just watched the drill - they trained the other day before us - and basically for 30 minutes they did the same drill running up and down, up and down, up and down and then the second drill they did like little zig zag runs and you know they must be doing this all the time because obviously practise makes perfect and they're spending hours and hours on one or two drills really.
So what do you need to do between now and 2012 because you don't want to just go to London as also rans do you?
Oh no, no we need to start, first of all, making aware that blind football's out there for the youngsters and you know if there's anyone around the age of 15, 16 2012 could be for them really. And we need to have more time for our players.
So you do - basically you need to find more people and then have them for longer?
Again that's the idea of what we're trying to do at the academy where someone will come along and besides the opportunity to study either for vocational or educational qualifications they'll get up to 18 hours of week of football training and football skills. And that's what these other countries are doing really - they're training everything from 18 to 30 hours a week.
Tony Larkin, coach of the British blind footballers. And I must just use this opportunity to bring you the result from last week's seven a side match for players with mobility impairment - that was between my team - Iran - and Britain and I'm delighted to say it finished Iran three, Britain nil.
I can see the power of being presenter has gone to your head.
How could I resist?
But Tim Reddish, how difficult is it to coach visually-impaired athletes as opposed to athletes with other disabilities?
It's different in the way that we have to find a way to communicate with the athletes, so the athlete can understand what the coach requires from the athlete. And I like to describe it as a picture dictionary. If we get our communication skills right as a coach and communicate in a way an athlete can understand a lot of athletes with a visual impairment can see sufficiently, if you're at the right place and right position, to learn from a demonstration because we all know that the best form of coaching is demonstration. But for those that have the least vision we've got to find a way of communicating and interacting and it's down to the coach, athlete, communication. And I was interested in what was said earlier about the Chinese doing specific drills for half an hour and we all have to do drills and skills to be the best that we can be. They do them for half an hour to an hour, our culture is different - if we ask our people to do drills and skills for that long we switch off after two or three minutes, the Chinese don't. We've got to get as good as them and work for as long as them and as hard as them and that's the difference.
I mean actually there's another quite interesting point Tim in that you are a totally blind coach, how easy is it for you? I mean what if somebody starts developing a different technique, you know, suddenly if - as you see sometimes in football - what happens in swimming if suddenly somebody discovers something?
We've got 35 athletes here, 35 swimmers, and I know every one of them by the sound of their stroke, so I just know if something is different to what it was last time I was at the end of the lane. And the way I work and operate is I get somebody that hasn't got a non-swimming coaching background or philosophy to describe to me what is happening. Now I'm probably more fortunate than most because I had sight so I saw how to swim in the early days when I had sight. So what I do is I get somebody to describe to me what is happening, not to tell me what they think is right or wrong, and then I analyse it and then I put a correction in place.
There is a rather piquant problem here though isn't there, and Tony Larkin touched on it, which is in the kind of football terms that Tony used the only way you could counter say China and Brazil, who are able to play the numbers game, would be to have more blind people and we're not really allowed to wish for that are we, even though it boosts In Touch listening figures, so what do we do - it has to be making the most of the ones we've got hasn't it?
It has to be and I think what we need to do if we're really serious now about sport and about London 2012 and this may upset a few people but I'm sorry, elite sport is elite sport it's not participation, so we've really got to trawl all those people that are out there, they might love football, they might love soccer, they might love swimming but if they're better at soccer then I'll transfer them from swimming, if they're better at swimming than they are at soccer let's put them in swimming. We've got to do that and get the best of our athletes we've got because we haven't got enough of the numbers, as you said, for example is it 83 million disabled people in China?
Yeah that's right, that's the figure that the government quotes, which is a lot to choose from isn't it.
And I guess the other thing it's important to say the problem doesn't just impinge on swimming or football, in fact we're not doing very well on the track in general. I mean Paralympics GB have got the same problem and the same weakness that is emanating from our Olympics team. But it does make you hark back to the days of this character.
Clip from Atlanta Paralympics
A hundred and fifty metres to go now and again the Lithuanian goes, the Lithuanian still has a half a metre lead over Noel Thatcher, who's coming off the bend and now he makes his bid for gold. Noel Thatcher from Harlow in Essex has broken the Lithuanian, he's got a three metre lead, he's got a four metre lead, it's a five metre lead, the man from Harlow in Essex is going to be immortal as far as the Paralympics are concerned. He's done what Zatopek did in the '52 Helsinki Olympics. Noel Thatcher the 30 year old physiotherapist wins gold for Great Britain.
Memories of more successful times with blind athlete Noel Thatcher back in Atlanta '96.
Tim Reddish, Noel Thatcher was a member of an athletics club, a general athletics club, how easy is it for visually-impaired athletes to join mainstream clubs?
I think the mainstream clubs that are out there are very welcoming once you've got a foot in the door, I think they fear the unknown to start with. At first - and I had this problem when I tried to access a club once I started losing my sight - they fear the unknown, is how am I going to communicate and work with this visually-impaired or blind person, they have this impression that we can't achieve or can't do things. I think it's got far better than what it did in 1996, there are more and more clubs opening their doors to people with any impairment and in particular those with a visual impairment. It's not as difficult as people think, I think we as the disability community also have the opportunity to help open those doors, I don't think we should go in and say hey I have the right to be there because I'm disabled, I say hey I want to be part of your club, let's look at a way of working together to enable both of us to achieve - 1. you as a club and 2. me as an athlete.
But I am intrigued Tim because this problem of how you find visually-impaired people if they're not in a special school and also thinking of people who are older, who lose their sight in their 20s and 30s, how are you going to know where they are, I mean is there a plan?
We're losing them in the system somewhere, whether it's education and whether we're not identifying they're in educational establishments but also once they're in educational establishments are they being given the same opportunities as they used to be given when they were in specific educational establishments? And I think it's a catalogue of all those and I think it's time that sport, education and health all got round the table and said let's have this database. For example in Spain they know where every single visually-impaired and blind person is in the country. We don't want to be big brother, for want of a better phrase, all we want to be able to do - all I want to say to somebody out there - myself personally has had a second chance in life because I went blind, I'm a better person because I went blind and through sport - and all I want to be able to do is offer other people the same opportunities I had or even better opportunities. We don't know where you are, you don't know about us so please let's try and get together and find more people.
Because it would be a tragedy if we didn't have proper representation of visually-impaired people in 2012 wouldn't it, when it's in London, it really would?
It's frightening really. I'll give you an example. In the swimming pool here 33 events for visually-impaired and blind people, we didn't win one medal from Great Britain, we had four athletes, all four from B3 S13 classification ...
Those are people with quite a lot of sight ....
So Tim, I mean for people listening now who are in their teens or twenties and are interested or for people who know people like that how do they find out about getting involved in visually-impaired sport?
The BPA - Paralympics GB - have a website called Parasport that they can link on to, have a look, find out what's happening and let's just find the people out there and we don't know whether they have the ability or not yet or the potential to be a future Paralympian but let's expose each other to that vast number of people that I hope are out there.
Tim Reddish, thanks very much indeed for joining us. I just finally want to go back to this very vexed question of classification, which has rather haunted the Paralympics, and the case of poor Jessica Gallagher of Australia who, perhaps you remember, was thrown out of the games for being able to see too much. Well I was determined to catch up with Jessica and I did and as a result she's Jess to us now, we're friends. Some of you may have heard her on Broadcasting House the other day but here's a chance to hear a bit more of our conversation where to my delight Jess did, as I suspected she would, share the joke. First of all though she explained to me just how her eyesight restricted her prowess in track and field.
In long jump when I'm standing where I begin my run up I can't actually see where the take off board is or the pit, I can't see to the sides, I can't see any detail in terms of who might be in the crowd or what's going on either side of me. I guess the positive with the 100 metres is that you're not supposed to do that anyway. So it can be very hard when there's glare and when you're looking straight ahead trying to see detail - where the finish line is.
So just explain to me what happened when you got here, how this whole thing panned out.
I haven't been classified before so I had to undergo some eye tests, which I did, and unfortunately my right eye was deemed eligible to compete but my left eye was point zero one off being eligible, so unfortunately I was classified out, so now I'm on a bit of a holiday I guess.
And what did they say - how was this result delivered to you?
He was really good about it, the specialist, and he just said that my left eye did have too much sight and it was going to be the case that I could compete here.
It must be unusual for an eye surgeon at the end of a test to say I'm sorry you can see a bit too much.
Absolutely, it was very strange, I don't think I've ever in my life have someone tell me that I've had too much vision, so it was very strange to hear, for most of my life people have always been going oh she can't see that, she can't see that, so now for them to be saying that I have too much sight. We've seen the funny side of it I guess.
What about the fact that one eye could have competed but one eye couldn't?
I know, maybe I should have just had a little patch over one eye, that might have made it a bit easier but I don't think the specialist would have allowed that.
Jess Gallagher from Melbourne. And I think we will definitely have to keep at least one eye on Jessica's progress, we'd like to do that. That's just about it from me Mani, thanks again to Tim Reddish for joining us on a very stormy night here in Beijing. We're almost finished except for the closing ceremony tomorrow and then I must pack. But that's it. Mani.
Thank you very much Peter. And I suppose the next time we talk about the Paralympics in any kind of depth will be about London 2012. Quite a thought.
Well I'll be back next week as Peter sorts out his time zones and his winter clothes...
If I've got any.
You'll need them. Don't forget that if you have any comments or ideas you can always contact us via our action line number which is 0800 044 044 or via the website where you'll also find a podcast of the programme from tomorrow. But for now from Peter White in Beijing, me Mani Djazmi and producer Cheryl Gabriel in London, see you next week.
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Peter White reported from the Paralympics in Beijing.
BRITISH BLIND SPORT
4-6 Victoria Terrace
British Blind Sport are currently running a campaign to improve local amenities for blind athletes.
105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.
HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.
THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Tel: 0118 983 5555
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.
ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
324 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.
NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
Far Cromwell Road
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.
EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (England)
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DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
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The Disabled Living Foundation provides information and advice on disability equipment.
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Thrive is a national charity, founded in 1978, whose aim is to research, educate and promote the use and advantages of gardening for those with a disability. Thrive’s vision is that the benefits of gardening are known to, and can be accessed by, anyone with a disability.
Thrive has been supporting blind gardeners for over 30 years, and established the Blind Gardeners’ Club with RNIB in 2006 to help gardeners share information and techniques. Membership of the club costs £9 a year.
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