Halifax's Hannah Cockroft fears disability sport is slipping from the public consciousness after criticising the absence of para-athletes from this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist.
Dina Asher-Smith, Lewis Hamilton, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Ben Stokes, Raheem Sterling and Alun Wyn Jones were all revealed as the contenders for the end-of-year prize last month.
Following the announcement, five-time Paralympic champion Cockroft took to Twitter to express her disappointment that para-athletes had been shunned by the awards for a second year in a row.
She highlighted fellow British Paralympians Sophie Hahn, Hollie Arnold and Aled Davies as three para-athletes who were worthy of recognition for their achievements on the world stage.
And while Cockroft is wary of nominations being seen as a ‘token’ gesture, she insists there is a real danger of disability sport losing the momentum created by London 2012 and Rio 2016.
“I think it’s a really difficult one,” said Cockroft. “Obviously every athlete who is on the shortlist deserves to be there rightfully, but it’s the second year with no para-athlete on the list.
“With people like [swimmer] Alice Tai winning all those World Championship golds and breaking four world records – you just start to wonder what more can we do?
“It’s just not about getting on that shortlist, it’s just about feeling like things are slipping a little. Our World Championships had no live coverage, we only had an hour-long highlight show.
“For a team that won a ridiculous amount of gold medals it’s not enough to show what we’re doing. We need to keep the momentum there as Tokyo is now eight months away.
“We don’t want to show people that we just come out once every four years and race. We’re there year in, year out, day in, day out, doing exactly the same as Dina and Katarina.
“We’re training the same, just as hard, and we just want the recognition for that.”
Cockroft was speaking at the SJA British Sports Awards at the Tower of London, where Davies and Tai were awarded the SJA Bill McGowran Trophy for achievement in para sport.
The 27-year-old has enjoyed her own success on the track this year, winning T34 800m gold at the World Para-Athletics Championships as British rival Kare Adenegan took silver.
She also won the 100m title ahead of Adenegan in another British one-two in Dubai, taking her overall record to a remarkable 12 world titles across all distances.
And having sung the praises of her fellow para-athletes, Cockroft believes the time may have come for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards to introduce a separate disability prize.
“Maybe none of us were rightful to be on that list, and you can’t knock anyone off to put one of us on, but it would be nice at some point to have that recognition,” she continued.
“That’s why these awards are so important. To have that separate disability award, like I said in my tweet, maybe it’s time for that because recognition is hard to get.
“There are so many phenomenal, phenomenal performances all the time from para-athletes. It’s about basically just shoving it in the public’s face.
“We want to make them want to watch what we do now. And maybe that’s the way to go but it’s nice that Alice and Aled especially could be recognised here [at the SJA Awards].”
The 2019 Sports Personality of the Year awards will take place on Sunday, December 15, with voting open to the public during the programme on BBC One.