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Snooker at the Paralympics
I watched the Paralympic Games with pride and wonder. Seeing fit athletes perform to such incredible standards despite their disabilities was truly inspiring. Quick, skilful movements that at times bordered on the dangerous were exciting to watch and the satisfaction the athletes felt at their performance was a joy to watch.
The obvious pleasure of taking part at all levels was hugely satisfying and the knowledge that ‘Great Britain’ ‘Big Business’ and ‘The Unions’ were behind the enterprise, prepared to contribute to the training of the athletes and the quality of their equipment. , must have seemed like the culmination of a wonderful dream. In addition, they had the knowledge that the public supported them along with the volunteers and the army. For once I appreciated the oft-repeated phrase, ‘We’re all in this together.’ The unifying force that prevailed throughout the ‘Games’ was simply tremendous and we all knew at the time that Great Britain was truly unique in offering the planning, imagination and care in creating this great spectacle of the Paralympic Games for the world to see.
I felt only one sense of disappointment during the entire fortnight. The number of events available to disabled athletes was understandably limited to certain sports, but I could not understand why the game of ‘Snooker’ was not included. I know a number of very good handicap snooker players who were equally puzzled. I think the last time the sport was played at Olympic level was in 1988 in Seoul where it really fizzled out and after that there seems to be no evidence that ‘Snooker’ was ever included again in the table of events. I ask this question because I know that although ‘Snooker’ requires high levels of skill, dexterity and movement, it is a game that is accessible to the disabled and without the need or use of special equipment.
My father, Ray Harrison, was very successful playing this sport and was also very successful in promoting ‘Snooker’ to many disabled people. He formed a team at the old Lodge Moor hospital in Sheffield and spent many hours training others while enjoying the game and the atmosphere himself. Dad was in a wheelchair, a victim of polio, but he had learned to lift and move his body into certain positions that gave him full control of the snooker table. A report published in the Sheffield Star in 1984 said: ‘Ray moves fluidly around a table both back and forth at speed and it was hard to believe he was disabled as he had developed his skills to such a fine degree that had enabled him to overcome the physical limitations of his disability.’ At the time, Ray had stated to the reporter that there weren’t many shots that a disabled person couldn’t make. In his opinion, you just had to become good at placing the white ball to make it easier for yourself and then you could enjoy the game. Mick Langley (Paralympic Snooker Champion 1988) said: “Ray Harrison was a legend, he was one in a million. He taught me a lot about the game of snooker and I believe I wouldn’t have achieved half of what I have achieved. if I would never have met him. What a great man!”
Using this method, Ray was able to play the sport at a very high level, winning three important medals, silver, bronze and finally the much-coveted ‘Paraplegic World Snooker Champion Gold Medal’ in 1985. He was also described as the perfect ambassador for disability sports and traveled to Denmark, Iceland and Malta to compete and appear on their TV channels. In 1984 he got the opportunity to travel to America and was very disappointed when this competition was canceled due to lack of sponsorship. But that was when the general public didn’t fully understand how important big sponsors were and when venues, sporting events, special facilities and travel arrangements were more difficult to put into operation. And it is now 2012 when we appreciate and encourage the determination and spirit that disabled people have in abundance and how important it is when sponsors can be found to help the athletes create success not only for themselves but also for the country’s reputation.
Dad was such an inspiration. He taught me the sport and never lost his enthusiasm, ambition and hope no matter what setbacks he experienced. He would have loved this period and reveled in the successes of the athletes and I know he would have found a way to get into the thick of it. He would also have encouraged me in the type of work I am engaged in. I know from my own experience that the game of Snooker is not only accessible to people with physical disabilities, it is also a great sport to help people with poor concentration skills. I coach people who find it incredibly difficult to focus on strategy, to learn where to place the balls and what part of a ball to hit with the cue, but I have found that with patience, respect and specialized teaching can enjoy the sport, follow the rules and learn to improve their standards.
I am very keen to see the sport of snooker revived and reintroduced in the next Paralympics which will be held in Brazil in 2016. With this in mind I am asking for general support to support my idea and request. I am planning to write to the Olympic Committee and contact Seb Coe and Mr Deighton to ask for their advice and if anyone else knows who else I could contact to try to implement this request I would be grateful to hear from them. I would also be happy if some of the best players in the country would approach members of the Olympic Committee to make a similar plea for the reinstatement of the sport, as they would obviously have more influence than I do. The more people I can find who will support me in this endeavor, the better chance it will have for success. We all know that achievements are important in the lives of healthy people, but even more strongly celebrated when we achieve after a struggle. I would therefore like to see this sport included in the table of events in the next games as it is so accessible to both able and disabled people of all abilities.
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