Two table tennis players in wheelchairs playing a game

As part of the GAPS programme – the sport for social purpose initiative developed by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and Griffith University – 33 para-athletes from around the world are currently enjoying a specially-arranged six-day staging camp at the University of Birmingham and University of Birmingham School.

With just a few days to go until the Commonwealth Games begin, the athletes – and many of their coaches – were treated to a visit by CGF President, Dame Louise Martin and UK Sport Chair, Dame Katherine Grainger as they enjoy the opportunity to add the final touches to their preparations thanks to the GAPS programme.

Dame Louise and Dame Katherine were offered the chance to watch and speak to the 33 athletes, who will compete in athletics, table tennis and powerlifting and are from 15 nations: Cameroon, Cyprus, Fiji, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zambia.

GAPS is a unique programme focused on supporting the development of emerging para-athletes and coaches from the Commonwealth, and it forms part of the international legacy of Birmingham’s hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The programme has benefitted from British expertise in Paralympic and para sport, with support from British Para Table Tennis, British Weightlifting and UK Athletics alongside experts from the University of Birmingham.

The GAPS programme has provided a fantastic opportunity for both staff and students to support athletes and coaches from incredibly diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Dr Tom Brownlee, School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Science

The six-day staging camp – and today’s visit – has been made possible through the support of the University of Birmingham and its volunteers and is an example of the opportunities it provides to support athletes, coaches and the development of sport pathways across the Commonwealth.

Dr Tom Brownlee, of the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Science, said: “The GAPS programme has provided a fantastic opportunity for both staff and students to support athletes and coaches from incredibly diverse cultures and backgrounds. This has covered disciplines including coaching, nutrition, and physiotherapy. It’s obviously also brilliant to be involved with a home Commonwealth Games so close to the competition itself. I know we’ll all be tuning in to see the amazing characters we’ve become friends with when they compete in events that some of us didn’t even know were in the games a few weeks ago!”

Ultimately, the long-term aim for this programme is to support participating athletes to use their platform as athletes to promote equal rights for disabled people in their countries, with Birmingham 2022 serving as a catalyst for progress toward disability equality around the world.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Dame Louise Martin said: “I would like to congratulate the 33 athletes participating at this GAPS Camp, and I wish them all the best of luck for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are looking forward to seeing you all compete as you showcase the very best of Commonwealth Sport. GAPS is a true partnership that was developed by the CGF and Griffith University in Western Australia. Through the support of the DCMS, UK Sport and the University of Birmingham, GAPS has gone from strength to strength, accelerating the development of emerging para-athletes and coaches from the Commonwealth.”

Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair at UK Sport, said: “With more than 30 GAPS athletes in Birmingham for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the GAPS programme is delivering on its mission to increase the participation of para-athletes from underrepresented countries, and I have every confidence this will continue in the future.

“These final days leading up to a Games are vitally important and I know each and every athlete will benefit hugely from what GAPS has offered them. For UK Sport, our support within the GAPS programme has primarily been focused on the Africa region and it is fantastic to have athletes from ten nations represented on the camp.

“Collaboration and inspiring positive change are at the heart of UK Sport’s new mission and, alongside our colleagues within Government, we have been working hard to ensure the Commonwealth Games movement benefits from British expertise. I wish every GAPS athlete the very best of luck when competition begins and look forward to cheering them on.”

GAPS athlete George Wyndham of Sierra Leone said: “GAPS is like a dream come true. In Africa we have been struggling a lot in terms of equipment, training, and facilities and with the GAPS programme coming in it has brightened our futures and given us opportunities.”

Minister for Commonwealth Games, Nigel Huddleston, said: “With inclusivity at the heart of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, we wanted to go above and beyond to improve access to para sport across the Commonwealth. GAPS is a fantastic demonstration of this ambition in action. I am very much looking forward to welcoming these athletes and their teams to Birmingham next week.”

Ama Agbeze, Birmingham 2022 board member and Chair of the Athletes’ Advisory Committee, said: “With Birmingham 2022 now less than ten days away, it’s been great to come and see how these Para athletes are preparing for the Games and to hear about the fantastic support that they have received through the GAPS programme.

“Birmingham 2022 has the biggest Para sports programme in Commonwealth Games history, and we are very much looking forward to watching all of the athletes compete later in the month.”

Since launching in the lead up to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, GAPS has built multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaborations with universities, sport organisations and government agencies.

In addition to Griffith University in Australia and the University of Birmingham, it also includes Western University in Canada and Stellenbosch University in South Africa, who have expanded the reach of GAPS across the Commonwealth.

It is supported by DCMS through funding into the Commonwealth Sport Foundation, UK Sport, the high-performance sport agency and PacificAus Sports, the Australian Government funded sporting opportunities programme.