Simmonds praises integration of para sports at Comm Games

Sports

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Running the Commonwealth Games in tandem with its largest-ever para sport program has been a success and should be adopted at other major events, five-time Paralympic gold medalist Ellie Simmonds said Friday.

The swimming great doesn’t want the model to be used at the Olympics, however, because the Paralympics is a big enough event to be held alone on the world stage.

This year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham — the largest multi-sport, integrated event — has so far sold more than 1.4 million tickets, including for para-swimming and athletics.

“It has just slotted in … and people have loved it, not just in the stadiums but on TV as well,” Simmonds said. “I would love to see it in future Commonwealth Games and also world championships. (Even at) the Europeans. That would be absolutely amazing.

“But I think the Olympics and Paralympics are different. The Paralympics is one of the biggest sporting events in its own right.”

The 27-year-old Simmonds, who is a board member for the Birmingham Games, said the successful integration was in part because of the smaller number of classifications for the event.

She said it was important that a broader mix of athletes be given the opportunity to compete, which is why she thinks a stand-alone Paralympics should remain in place.

“With the Paralympics, we want to celebrate that. It is an incredible 10 days of competition with all different types of classifications,” Simmonds said. “The integration into the Commonwealth Games is amazing. (But) it would not be possible from a logistic point of view. I think with all the classifications, if it was included into the Olympics, it would mean the Olympics would be going on for months.”

The importance of inclusion and diversity has been a focus of the Birmingham Games, which finish on Monday.

English diver Tom Daley, who was among the last baton bearers in the opening ceremony, used his platform to deliver a message about the intolerance shown towards LGBT communities by more than half of the competing nations in the Commonwealth Games.

Women’s rights came under the spotlight, including in countries where women are discouraged from competing after marriage. Ama Agbeze, who led England to a gold medal in netball on the Gold Coast in 2018, is hopeful the Commonwealth Games can be a positive influence in places like Pacific Island nations, where she has traveled during her career.

“That is definitely an issue that they face (there),” Agbeze said. “But I think, more and more, it is changing … People start to look up to them and realize they are going somewhere and that they can put our country on the map. And so things slowly start to change.

“It might not be in their generation. But for the future generations, I think change will start to happen. We are still fighting for equality and the more we jump up and down, and the more we shout, hopefully, the faster we get towards progress. Hopefully that will happen across the world.”

Agbeze, also a board member in Birmingham, said the discussion should be respectful.

“Obviously we have our own culture here and we expect people to come here and adhere to our culture,” she said. “So I think it is about acknowledging someone’s culture and then basically showing them the options that are available to them and saying, ‘This is another option. Maybe you can embrace it.’”

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports