10 June 2024

Blind sport struggling for numbers in Britain – Darren Harris

10 June 2024

Team GB’s most-capped blind footballer Darren Harris says disability sport is falling behind in this country after failure to qualify for the Paralympics.

Harris played 157 times for England between 1996 and 2019 and represented Team GB at the London Games.

The sport is enjoying a rise in popularity around the world, but there will not be a British team in Paris after they did not make it through the qualification process.

“We have seen blind football really grow around the world – not so much in this country, that’s been a real challenge,” Harris told the PA news agency.

“All the blind sports are struggling with numbers. Not enough blind people are accessing high-quality sport from an early enough age.

“But across the world, the standard is improving all the time and it is just great to see.

“There are only eight teams who qualify. We didn’t qualify unfortunately, but there is hope for LA (in 2028).

“There are two or three really young players who are our best players and they are 18 and 20. Hopefully they can help us for LA.”

Harris, who also represented Team GB in Judo at Beijing 2008, believes there has been a shift in focus of the Paralympics in recent years.

“The whole reason I wanted to become a Paralympian was I went to Atlanta in 1996 as a spectator,” he added. “I was on holiday really and I was in the crowd and it was amazing how reactive the crowd were to these athletes.

“It was at that moment that I realised they weren’t standing out because of their disabilities but their abilities to throw and run and jump.

“That was the moment I wanted to become a Paralympian. I didn’t know it was going to take 12 years to get there. Over the years the Games have changed, people really now focus on the performance. That has been a great shift.”

We have seen blind football really grow around the world, not so much in this country, that's been a real challenge

Harris, who is now a motivational speaker and author, was speaking at the launch of Spabreaks.com’s Real Men Relax campaign.

The 50-year-old finds inclusion and freedom in the spa and also the chance to socialise.

“I have always gone to the gym and one of the things I have always done after is go to the spa,” he said.

“It’s a social thing and time to unwind and set the day off well. It has become a real social thing.”

:: Darren Harris is an ambassador for Spabreaks.com’s Real Men Relax campaign which aims to highlight the reasons why men should go to the spa. To find a selection of spas for men go to: https://www.spabreaks.com/categories/men

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