Disabled women’s basketball is to become the first para-sport to have its own Premier League, in a bid to increase the “visibility” of disabled athletes.
It’s hoped the world’s best talent will be attracted to play in the UK, with the inaugural season running from January to May.
“It’s such a game-changer,” Lisa Pearce from British Wheelchair Basketball told Sky News.
“People are going to be able to not just see it once every four years at the Paralympic Games but actually see these women week in, week out competing domestically in these incredible new full franchise teams and get to know them and follow them. It’s going to be huge.”
“When we talk about visibility, it’s so important for women’s sport, and we’ve seen that growth happen within football, within rugby, within cricket,” said Ms Pearce.
“So to have this be the first of its kind in the UK for any para-sport, and we’ve gone women first, it’s going to be really important for the public to see the incredible sport.”
The GB women’s disabled wheelchair basketball team are currently World and European silver medallists, and that success has given the sport a platform to go further in the hope it will challenge perceptions of disability.
Sarah Hope, who plays for Worcester Wolves, told Sky News: “I think a lot of people think wheelchair basketball, it’s just for disabled people. But as soon as you see it you can see it’s a fast physical game, it’s tactical as well and once you’ve watched it you won’t stop.
“It’s really enjoyable to watch.”
Teammate Jade Loughlin added: “You’re not going to be bored by it, to say the least.
“They say it’s a non-contact sport – we tend to make a bit of contact.”
Coverage of the new league will be streamed to a global audience.
“I came into the sport about seven and a half years ago,” said head coach Simon Fisher. “My background is the running game of basketball, and I just see it as basketball.
“What makes this special is they’re just athletes. They have a disability, but some walk to court because they might have a hip issue, they might be an amputee but have a leg on. Then all the way through to people who are in a chair – the range of disability that can play makes it so inclusive.
“I may be biased, but I think it’s one of the most inclusive sports out there.”
Currently, around 17,000 people play the sport in the UK and the aim is to attract more than 50,000 more.
As well as the University of Worcester, Cardiff Metropolitan University, the University of East London, and Loughborough University will also host teams.
“The most important thing is for the league to start and grow and for the next two to three years, almost I think by osmosis, other institutions will want to come on board – four to six to eight,” said Fisher.
“It becomes a destination for people to want to play against the best and be involved in programmes that value them.”