A Sussex Paratriathlete who has represented Great Britain in world class events is furious after being banned from taking part in races accross Sussex amid health and safety concerns.
Paul Thomas, a 49 year old lecturer at Plumpton College, suffers from Clauda Equina Syndrome, a condition which affects the spinal cord. He uses poles to aid his running, which organisers claim make him an impediment to others. Thomas said “It is health and safety gone mad, organisers should be looking at ability not disability.”
Thomas has been told he will not be allowed to take part in the Haywards Heath Harriers Open Cross Country Races in Hickstead on Sunday 10 October. A representative of Haywards Heath Harriers, who did not want to give his name, said “We don’t want to withdraw the opportunity for anyone who can race safely to do so, but the narrow paths and muddy tracks that the course incorporates are not suitable for someone with Paul’s disability. We are also concerned that he may be a danger to other athletes if they try to overtake him.”
He added that the England Athletics association say that the decision remains with the race director.
He believed that the organisers would find themselves under threat of legal action if Paul, or any athlete, were involved in an accident. Recent rainy weather has been a factor involved in the decision.
Paul has said: “They can only stop someone from racing only if they can justify it. They do not know my disability. Telling me that I may be a danger is against the Disability Discrimination Act. They have to prove that I am more of a danger than anyone else to prevent me from running.”
Nigel Herron, a choach from Phoenix Athletics and Triathlon Club, Brighton, added: “The league’s website advertises itself, ‘to promote fun running for everyone, regardless of ability.’ So really organisers dont have a leg to stand on. Paul poses no more risk to himself or others than I, or any other athlete.”
Last year, Thomas was banned from three races for similar reasons. He appealed a ban which prevented him taking part in the Goodwood Relay races in Chichester in 2009, on the grounds that organisers were breaching the Disability Discrimination Act. On Saturday 2 October 2010 he competed in the race safely.
The races Paul enters, or has tried to enter, have been organised by different bodies within the Sussex Athletics Association, and the decision over whether or not he can race depends upon the committee in charge of each event.
He said: “Sussex AA are starting to get to grips with becoming inclusive, but they still have a long way to go.”
Despite the issues Thomas has faced, he has been awarded the South East Region Services to Disability Athletics Award by England Athletics. He is now due to be considered for the national award within the category for his commitment and ongoing dedication.