Sophie Carrigill has tunnel-vision when it comes to Tokyo 2020 preparation

Mark Staniforth, PA Olympics Correspondent

The devastating impact of coronavirus on disabled sport has not stopped Great Britain wheelchair basketball player Sophie Carrigill staying “tunnel-visioned” in her pursuit of the Olympic podium.

Grassroots facilities have been shuttered and some disabled athletes have been forced to sit out the pandemic as they fear being immunocompromised by participating in some of the events that are still taking place.

Carrigill is at the forefront of a new ‘Inspire a Generation’ campaign by British Wheelchair Basketball, bolstered by £1.5million of Sport England funding, which seeks to offer disabled people a way back into sport and double the number involved in wheelchair basketball within the next four years.

Great Britain
Wheelchair basketball participants could almost double under a new initiative (Thomas Lovelock/OIS)

The 27-year-old, who featured in the GB women’s team’s fourth-place finish at the Rio Paralympics in 2016, says the memory of that near-miss and the chance to inspire more participants have helped her shut uncertainties over the Tokyo Games out of her mind.

Carrigill told the PA news agency: “It’s hard but we’ve just got to stay tunnel-visioned because ultimately our goal is still to be the best athletes we can be.

“We’ve adapted our training quite a bit to make sure we’re fully safe, and we’re preparing as if the Games will go ahead.

London Paralympic Games – Day 10
Great Britain have made major strides in wheelchair basketball in recent years (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“Rio was bitter-sweet because we went there hoping to get to the semi-finals and we did that, but we were so close to winning a medal. The years since Rio have been pivotal in our journey to win world and European medals.”

British Wheelchair Basketball chief executive Lisa Pearce said the new initiative could not have come at a better time as people seek a means to return to exercise in a post-pandemic environment.

The initiative seeks to recruit ‘community activators’ and local partners to maximise the opportunities for young people to have access to the sport at a local level.

Pearce said: “We can see the disproportionate impact that Covid has had on disabled people.

“So there has never been a better time for us to make sure that everybody is physically active, and this campaign gives us an opportunity to take wheelchair basketball to communities across England, and engage thousands of new people in the sport.”

:: British Wheelchair Basketball has launched its Inspire a Generation programme which will give thousands of people across England the opportunity to try wheelchair basketball for the first time. Visit www.inspireageneration.com.

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