Pippa Britton, Wales’ most successful archer, was the latest guest to appear on Series 10 of the Game Changers podcast.
During her playing career, Britton was one of her country’s leading athletes and remains a trailblazer in archery. As a double Paralympian and double world champion, she set the sport alight with her unrivalled skill, but more importantly, with her approach to making the world a more accepting place.
Now retired, Britton has shifted her focus to giving back to sport by combining her understanding of diversity and equality with her experience of governance.
The landscape is changing when it comes to disability sports – athletes are finally receiving the plaudits they deserve and their achievements are celebrated for the remarkable milestones they are.
However, the world hasn’t always been as supportive. Britton reflected on the time when she first noticed a real change in the tide – para-athletes were finally starting to catch the eye of the public.
“I think Beijing 2008 was probably one of the first times that not just Britain, but the world went, ‘oh, actually, these aren’t just disabled people who are having a little go at sport. These are athletes who are at the pinnacle of their career, ‘”she said.
“When London came along four years later, and lots of people asked me whether I think London 2012 changed attitudes towards disability, I think what happened in London – particularly in Britain – is that people really looked at the value of sportspeople – real athletes at the peak of their training, achieving amazing things and they just so happen to have a disability. ”
At their home Games in 2012, Team GB finished third overall after picking up 120 medals in total. Dame Sarah Storey won four golds in cycling, while OBE honored swimmer Ellie Simmonds bagged herself two golds, a silver, and a bronze medal.
These women are some of the leading names in British sport as a whole, not just the Paralympics. But Britton stated that disabled athletes making headlines after winning medals may not have happened 10 or 20 years ago.
“It would still have been a much more patronizing approach to sport disability,” she admitted.
The celebration of para-athletes is still very new and there is still much to do to promote and celebrate diversity in sport, as well as stamping out harmful stigmas.
Britton won 24 medals at 24 International events during her career and made the podium at six consecutive World Championships.
Archery is a sport with very few disability specific events. Britton explained that all of the tournaments she competed in within Britain were able-bodied competitions.
“The only disability specific events I did were things like the Para-Archery world ranking shoots, the World Championships, European Championships, Paralympic Games. Everything else I competed in, I competed within the able-bodied landscape and that’s the same for disabled archers across the world. ”
But despite archery being generally accessible for all athletes, there are many sports that are only just starting to introduce disability specific versions.
Britton is always looking at what can be done to make sport as diverse as possible, whether that’s through her own work, or encouraging retired athletes to remain in space and become a part of the future.
The former World Champion has worked in a number of prominent non-executive board roles, including the vice-chair of Sport Wales and UK anti-doping, and the chair of Disability Sport Wales.
“I managed to get a seat at the table at the Para-Archery committee,” Britton explained. “And one of the first questions I asked was why there was an event we had, that only had men, and there was no women’s option to compete. And the answer I was given at that very first meeting was there aren’t enough women. Now, plainly there are plenty of women in the world now, plenty of women doing archery.
“So, I thought it would be good to go on a mission. I basically went out to all the women I knew in various countries and I asked them, ‘Do you know of any women in your country who, if this category existed. would be interested? ‘ And 12 months later I went back and I said, ‘Well there are three in Sweden and four in Britain and two in Germany.’ And, they said, ‘Right now we’ve got the evidence, we can do something about this.’
“And I realized that if you want to make change happen, you have to be at the table where the decisions are made. We now have that category. Women were competing in Rio for the first time in 2016. So, I’m really proud of that, but it did make me see that you need to be able to speak up [and] not be afraid. ”
This article was produced in partnership with The Game Changers podcast, which is supported by Sport England. You can listen to the full episode with Jonathan Licht here.