Hannah Cockroft MBE at the Para Athletics Team Announcement for the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 / Picture Credit: Nigel French/PA Wire/PA Images
Hannah Cockroft MBE at the Para Athletics Team Announcement for the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 / Picture Credit: Nigel French/PA Wire/PA Images

Team GB Paralympian Hannah Cockroft MBE is gearing up to fly out to Tokyo for the Games in just a few weeks but before she could think about going for gold, the wheelchair racer was part of BT Sport’s coverage of the FA Disability Cup.

After taking a break last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Disability Cup returned this year with five finals for the five different types of disability football and for the first time ever the coverage featured multiple accessibility features across BT’s channels.

Although she confessed she didn’t know a lot about football ahead of the tournament, Cockroft was looking forward to being on the other side of the coverage and witnessed all five unique finals with two of them even going to penalties.

Before the competition took place the 28-year-old explained what to expect from the Disability Cup, why it’s important to have parasport events both for athletes and audiences and revealed how confident she is of a place on the podium in Japan.

The FA Disability Cup is back, so how excited are you to see it return?

I’m so excited, it’s going to be my first one so I’m so excited just to be there, be amongst it. I think for me having that championship experience obviously before I head off to the Games but to be on the other side of it and not be an athlete and have that experience and learn about why people ask certain questions when you’ve not had a great race or a great championship. It’s all going to be a massive learning experience for me, but I am so excited to be involved in some coverage that is just going to be so ground-breaking, it’s amazing to see it finally happening.

Could you briefly explain the format of the FA Disability Cup?

You’re asking the wrong person! There’s three finals on the Saturday and two finals on the Sunday. There’s powerchair football, there’s amputee football, there’s cerebral palsy football, and then there’s visually impaired football and blind football. So, there’s five different cups as it were because of the five disabilities. There’s been games leading up to this, so these are the finals of all the games.

Essentially, they’re going to be five very different games because of the five different disabilities, the rules vary between all the games so I’m still trying to learn all those. But ultimately one of each get to go away as the cup holders and they all get their game on BT Sport so it’s pretty massive, it’s all at St George’s Park at the weekend. It’s going to be a very busy weekend but also a lot of football, and after everyone tuning into England in the Euros there is absolutely no reason for everyone not to tune in next week.

How important is it to have a competition like this which represents disabled sports people and gives disability football and sport a platform?

It’s massively important, massively. I think especially for the powerchair football guys who unfortunately don’t have an event at the Paralympic Games. This is huge for them and it’s coverage and it’s competition that they’ve been crying out for. Disability sport is struggling, in the pandemic we are struggling to get grassroots sports back up and if you don’t have anything to look to, to inspire you to want to get into that sport then it really struggles to get off the ground.

For the disability football you don’t see loads of it at Paralympic Games so for it to have its own championships, to have it all covered it gives people the chance to tune in and go: “You know what, I’m going to give that a go.” And that’s so important, that’s how parasport works, you wait for people to watch what you do and go: “I think I can do that.” Let’s be honest we don’t get the coverage, we don’t get the crowds, we don’t get those things so we solely rely on what we can get and what we can get is success. We have some amazing, amazing athletes, some amazing, amazing football players, we have some of the best teams, so they’ve finally got that stage to show it off, to go for the Disability Cup and actually getting the whole event covered is massive.

People just need to tune in and support it and obviously everyone can tune in because the coverage is going to be accessible to all – that’s the biggest thing for me, I think. We don’t have that in the Paralympics, we’ve never had that before, we’ve never seen this kind of accessibility in television so I’m buzzing that I’m involved with that because it is amazing, and I hope that we see other sports and other channels follow suit because it’s about time.

You’re presenting BT Sport’s coverage of the event, how are you feeling ahead of that?

I’m really excited, it’s a massive, massive opportunity for me. I am quite nervous; my football knowledge is not amazing so I’m going to study and learn as much as I can before I get there. Ultimately, I just can’t wait to go and chat to people and it’s just going to be one of those things where I’m learning on the job, I’m going to be finding out all the time new things, new knowledge, meeting new people and I love doing that – anything to get out the house.

How important is it for people who have a disability to see you and see people with a range of disabilities on TV, so they have someone to relate to?

I think it’s so important, even if it doesn’t make them think I can do that or I want to do that, it isn’t about everyone being the next player or the next Paralympian or whatever they want to be. It literally is about that access when you look at the coverage that BT Sport are putting on. How many people were actually not able to watch the England games in the Euros because there wasn’t a sign language person on the bottom of the screen or there wasn’t audio description. Until this has been put out you don’t actually think, oh we need that so everyone can get involved because sport is for all, sport is inclusive and being a sports fan should be inclusive. But it’s still difficult getting to stadiums, it’s not accessible, it’s a long day, it’s hard work so this is making it accessible to everyone.

For me this is just what I want to see more of now so that even if you just want to be a sports fan and you have a disability you can say here you go, you have everything you need right here and come along and enjoy it. I think that’s so important.

Although having events like the Disability Cup is a great massive step in the right direction, what more needs to be done to improve parasports and inclusivity as a whole?

Coverage is a big one, it’s great that this is happening for the Disability Cup but let’s do it for more. Let’s do it for more sports. Why is it just the cup that’s being covered? Let’s cover some of their individual games, outside of football cover more athletics, get it out there, put more events on. There is not enough competition opportunity, there’s definitely not enough coverage of parasport so this is a massive step forward. We just need to build on it, we need to get that momentum and I think the timing of this is perfect.

If you’re a football fan, you’re a football fan whether it’s with a powerchair or if it’s with your feet so everybody can tune in and enjoy the cup. It’s the perfect time for everyone to watch and learn more about disability sport and hopefully get a new favourite player.

The Paralympics are fast approaching, but what are your thoughts ahead of the Games at this current moment?

I am excited, I’m so excited to get out to Tokyo and get it done but I think I am slightly apprehensive. Obviously, the Olympics has to go well for us to get out there and do what we do. I’m just hoping and praying it does go well. We’re not out of the woods yet with the pandemic, lockdown and restrictions might be easing but actually things are getting worse in Japan, so we have no control over what’s about to happen, I’m just going to stay positive and keep training like this is going ahead. Hopefully in a month’s time I’ll be out there.

It’s been confirmed no fans will be allowed to watch the Games, so do you think that’ll really affect you or do you think you’ll be grateful enough with it actually going ahead?

Unfortunately, with parasport we don’t get crowds, London 2012 was the biggest crowd and then we’re used to competing in empty stadiums. As sad as that is it won’t affect us, we’re used to it. It is sad because the Paralympics is the one time every four years that we do get a crowd, we do get people wanting to watch and that might not happen this time but that’s why coverage is so important.

I’m not sure if they’re having crowds at the Disability Cup but it means that people can still tune in, it means that people can still get involved and it’s the same for the Paralympics, coverage is so important so that people can get behind it so essentially all our hard work can be watched and it isn’t just hidden away on the track in the middle of Tokyo with no one watching.

Does that mean that all your family will be living on Japanese time while staying here?

Yeah, I think my mum and dad will have to watch my races and all my races are in the morning, typically, so great timing! So, they’ll be up at - I don’t even know the time difference – but they’ll be up at some ridiculous time watching me race. But yeah, no international spectators at all.

How confident are you feeling about your chances of getting on the podium?

I think the last season’s been going really, really well. I’ve broken all of my four world records, so the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m, I’m absolutely flying in training. I’m pushing well but the big one this year is we have no idea how the rest of the world is pushing. Some places haven’t even had a competition yet because of lockdowns, others have had access to a track the whole time that we’ve been in a lockdown so it’s going to be a really interesting Games. I don’t want to promise anything, I’m going there for gold but who knows what’s going to happen. It’s going to be the most exciting Games ever.

FA Disability Cup results

  • Powerchair Final - Aspire PFC 0-2 West Bromwich Albion PFC
  • Cerebral Palsy Final - North East & Yorkshire 5-2 CP North West
  • Partially Sighted Final - Scorpion Futsal Club 1-3 Birmingham Futsal
  • Amputee Final - Peterborough United Amputees 0-0 Portsmouth Amputees (Peterborough win 6-5 on penalties)
  • Blind Final - RNC Hereford 1-1 Merseyside Blind & VI FC (RNC Hereford win 2-1 on penalties)

For more info, visit: btsport.com/disabilitycup.

Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First. You can follow Lucy on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.

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