BC Ferries transportation grants will help disability sports athletes develop and compete at highest levels
VICTORIA – Competitive sport at any level involves travel: to different fields or arenas, cities or provinces; to tournaments and championships; and by car, bus, train, plane or boat.
And that travel presents challenges — mainly cost and logistics — to athletes and organizations.
Now, in British Columbia, a partnership between BC Ferries and viaSport will give disability sport competitors aid to access opportunities for training, competition and camaraderie.
The government-funded organization oversees amateur sports in B.C. and itself helps fund about 70 sporting groups, serving a membership base of approximately 4,000 organizations and 800,000 participants. It also distributes in-kind travel grants from BC Ferries to teams and athletes that need the province’s ferry system to travel between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and between islands.
Those grants come from BC Ferries’ Community Investment program, which “identifies social investments that make a difference in the communities in which we operate,” with a focus on aiding and promoting sporting and cultural events. Running for 15 years and devised to engage and support B.C. coastal communities and the employees who live in those areas, the program supports approximately 500 requests annually.
Its newest endeavour was created based on recommendations of disability sports organizations to address their athletes’ unique needs to support young athletes attending championships and provincial competition events.
Typically, the top two barriers throughout the evolution of adaptive sports are transportation and funding, so this grant addresses both of those,” says Ross MacDonald executive director of SportAbility BC, a 40-year-old, member-driven organization that provides sport and activity opportunities for people with a physical disability.
SportAbility athletes typically compete in para ice hockey (also known as sledge hockey); boccia (played by athletes using wheelchairs and a ramp to launch the ball); power soccer (soccer played by people using powered wheelchairs equipped with front bumpers with which they “kick” an oversized ball); and para soccer, which is played by athletes who are able to walk or run while having a physical impairment. And most must travel, often with a caregiver, for development or selection camps, tournaments, regional and provincial championships, or awareness events.
“There are athletes who always have to travel by vehicle, with an accessible van, etc., so they’re always going to have the added costs of the vehicle,” says MacDonald, who has played on Canada’s national teams in para soccer and wheelchair basketball, competing in world championships and the Para Pan Am Games.
“Removing a portion of that cost can really benefit the individual but also benefits the community because we have more people interacting with each other,” he says, explaining, “As we all know, sport is not just the physical or the competitive aspect; a big component is the social aspect of people meeting each other and creating a stronger community for themselves and for others.”
Jared Kope, viaSport’s director, partnerships and engagement, says there’s plenty of demand for BC Ferries support among disability sports organizations and other member groups, noting his group receives about 500 applications each year, especially as some COVID-related restrictions have been lifted.
“We’re seeing a massive uptick in applications right now. People are excited to travel and play sports.
“BC Ferries has been amazing about this… They want to help people move. And people with disabilities were one of the things they wanted to support more,” Kope says, noting that in addition to $100,000 in annual in-kind grants, the ferry corporation is adding $25,000 dedicated to disability sports organizations.
“In discussions with our partners in amateur sports, we learned there was an unmet need among disability sports athletes,” says Janet Carson, BC Ferries’ Vice President of Marketing and Customer Experience. “We’re really proud that our Community Investment program can help these athletes get where they need to go to develop and compete at the highest levels.”
Says SportAbility BC’s MacDonald: “We’re very thankful to BC Ferries for the opportunity to access dedicated grant funding for disability sports organizations, and allowing us to make recommendations to meet the needs of our organizations, and most importantly, our members. This will ensure the program benefits the individuals who need it the most.”
BC Ferries, Media Relations
Victoria: (250) 978-1267