People with disabilities underrepresented in Flemish sports clubs, study finds

Only 14 percent of sports clubs in Flanders specifically cater for athletes with disabilities, according to research by KU Leuven. "Sport and exercise are particularly important for people with disabilities," Jeroen Scheerder, professor of sports sociology, said on Monday.

Flanders has around 25,000 sports clubs, one of the highest per capita figures of any region in the world. "At the same time, we see that people with disabilities are underrepresented in sports clubs," says Scheerder. "Compared to other European countries, we're not doing well: in Scandinavian and southern countries, the difference in the numbers of athletes with and without disabilities is much smaller."

"Everyone should be able to participate in sport. For people with disabilities, it's even more important to do so"

More than half of the sports clubs in Flanders have no members with disabilities, while only 3 per cent of clubs have 10 per cent or more. Clubs should focus more on a "target group policy" instead of a "middle class policy", says Scheerder. "Everyone should be able to participate in sport. For people with disabilities, it's even more important to do so: it's good for their health, it plays a social role and the 'fun factor' is very important."

Research in 2018 found that a third of people with disabilities did no exercise at all. For the Flemish population as a whole, the figure is one in six "The explanations for why many people with disabilities don't participate in sport are manifold," says co-researcher Debbie Van Biesen. "The infrastructure or equipment is not adapted to them, they sometimes have to rely on others to get to the club. Coaches also don't always know how to work with them. There is definitely work to be done".


#FlandersNewsService | Flemish paralympic cyclist Ewoud Vromant © BELGA PHOTO URS LINDT

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