Scholarship scheme supports local disability athletes

“On guard!” Wheelchair fencers Thomas Hall-Butcher (left) and Alan Sheriff (centre) with Deloitte Midlands practice senior partner Chris Loughran.

Business advisory firm Deloitte is providing financial support to a group of elite disability athletes from the Midlands as they pursue their ambition of competing at the Paralympic Games.

They are part of a group of nearly 100 athletes to receive funding this year through the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS).  TASS is funded by Deloitte and managed by SportsAid and has provided more than 500 financial awards to disability athletes over the last five years.

The current TASS athletes come from all over the country and compete across sixteen different sports, including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, wheelchair fencing and disability snowsports.

In total, there are currently 17 disability athletes from the Midlands receiving support from TASS, including wheelchair fencers Alan Sheriff and Thomas Hall-Butcher, who both study at the University of Birmingham.

Alan, who lives in Tamworth, has been a TASS athlete for two years. The financial support he receives through the scheme helps fund his training and competition expenses, travel and equipment costs.

The 39 year-old former PE teacher took up fencing following a serious motorbike accident.

“I initially took up the sport to keep myself active after the crash,” he said. “However, I soon found that I was quite good so decided to take it up professionally.

“Fencing can be quite a demanding sport, both physically and financially, which is why support from initiatives such as TASS are so important. The funding I get from TASS enables me to train and compete at the highest level. Without it I wouldn’t be fencing.”

Thomas, 20, is originally from Alfreton, Derbyshire, but lives in Birmingham. He has been a TASS athlete for four years. He said the support and backing of a big company like Deloitte has not only helped his career, it has also helped to raise the profile of the sport.

“Fencing is still a relatively unknown sport,” he said. “However, thanks to Deloitte and TASS it has been getting more exposure and as a result has raised its profile.

“On a personal level, TASS has been fantastic in supporting me through my career and in helping me to achieve my goals, one of which is to win a medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.”

Deloitte’s support of disability athletes through TASS is part of its wider commitment to supporting disability sport from grassroots participation through to ParalympicsGB.

Sheila Newbury, community investment manager at Deloitte in Birmingham and TASS coordinator, said: “Deloitte’s financing of TASS allows athletes to achieve their sporting potential and keep up their education at college or university. The funds help to finance training, competing and support services whilst encouraging an education route that is suited to the individual.

“With less than 500 days to go, the anticipation is beginning to build for the London 2012 Paralympic Games and we hope to see some of our athletes competing next year.  More importantly, we believe the legacy of our support will be seen at Games for many years to come.”

SportsAid’s chief executive, Tim Lawler, said: “The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme is unique and world-leading. Deloitte recognised the potential of the scheme right from launch and have been superb partners. It is exciting that some of our athletes will be competing at a home Games next September and that some may even celebrate with a medal.  Perhaps of more significance is the partnership having now made more than 500 financial awards to talented athletes with a disability – it is transformational for disability sport.”

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