World Athletics should follow Commonwealth Games’ lead and open up sport for all, says Halifax's Hannah Cockroft

Halifax’s Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft has welcomed the opportunity for her counterparts to compete as equals with able-bodied athletes at two showpiece events on home soil this summer.

By Nick Westby
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 11:01 am
Hannah Cockroft

And the 29-year-old from Halifax is hoping this recently-earned equality becomes the norm for para-sports.

Cockroft will line up in a 100m wheelchair race at Alexandra Stadium in Birmingham on Saturday, May 21, at the first Diamond League event to have able-bodied and para athletes competing on the same bill.

Then in July – if selected – Cockroft returns to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games which will see wheelchair races again share the programme with their non-disabled counterparts.

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Both occasions offer a unique shop window for her sport, even one Cockroft has flown the flag for for so long.

“The Commonwealth Games for a start are going to be something totally different to other events I’ve done,” the seven-time Paralympic champion told The Yorkshire Post.

“A home games is always different anyway because the crowd are unbelievable, there’s nothing like a British crowd, everyone comes out, everyone supports, everyone gets behind whatever the championships and the races.

“But being integrated as one championships will open my sport up to so many new people who haven’t come across Paralympic sport before or never had the opportunity to come and watch, so hopefully it will get a few people coming to watch what we do when we’re a standalone event.

“It’s allowing it the room to grow and it shows that the Olympics and Paralympics are the same sport with the same standard of athletes, who all have the same goals and ambitions.

“The Commonwealth Games allows us to do that.”

Para-athletes have been invited to the Diamond League meet next month to help them prepare for the Commonwealth Games.

Cockroft will compete in the T34 100m in both events, a distance she has won gold over at the last three Paraylmpic Games dating back to London 2012, and was still setting the third fastest time of her career in at a race in Dubai just last month.

“It’s going to be really special for me to finally pull on an England kit, I’ve never done that before,” said the Leeds City Athletics Club member. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years so there’s not many firsts I still have left, so I’m going to make the most of it.”

And Cockroft wants these opportunities to compete on a level playing field to become more commonplace.

British Athletics have been at the vanguard of the movement, turning the Covid-enforced postponement of a number of events into a chance to put a lot more para events into the able-bodied meets.

Next month will be Cockroft’s first Diamond League meet, but she will also compete in the British Championships for a third straight year.

Other sports like cycling have integrated para-sports into their major championships – Yorkshire was the first UCI Road World Championship to do so in 2019 and the world’s best cyclists of all abilities will compete together in Glasgow next year.

So can, and should, the IAAF follow suit with their world championships?

“I think it’s something athletics should look to be doing,” says Cockroft, who was speaking in her capacity as an ambassador for Sporting Heritage.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be integrated – we use the same track, we use the same field, there’s no difference in what we do.

“A 400 metres is a 400 metres whether you’re in a wheelchair or you’re running it. It would bring so much parity into events. Naturally I think we’d be able to show up a few of the Olympians – maybe that’s whay they’re scared of!

“Ultimately it depends on how many athletes accept a place in the race and how much traction it gets when it’s there.

“It all comes down to athlete support. Some get behind it, but not all. If we support it hopefully it can become a more permanent fixture."