April 7, 2021


By 2019 Diana Award recipient, Matthew Chilvers from Desford, England

Matthew Chilvers received his Diana Award for changing the perception of disability sport. He plans coaching sessions from a disabled participant’s point of view to ensure they progress at a suitable pace and organises dedicated tournaments for his peers. Matt constantly pushes himself out of his comfort zone to change perceptions for people with disabilities.

‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’ – Nelson Mandela

Being physically active helps us all to stay fit and healthy, but inequalities exist in sport. Research from Sport England has shown Black and Asian people, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled people are less likely to be physically active. This is why the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is important, as it uses the power of sport to drive social change and tackle inequalities.

My name is Matthew Chilvers and I received the Diana Award in 2019 for changing the perception of disability sport. I am an autistic tennis player and Level 2 tennis coach and work as a casual coach for a local borough council.  Since the age of 15 I have been volunteering as a coach at Desford Lawn Tennis Club, helping to run inclusive and general sessions. In 2018 I was selected as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Unsung Hero for the East Midlands for my work to encourage more people with disabilities to become involved in tennis.

I get so much out of sport and I want others to have the same opportunities.”

Ensuring sport is more accessible and inclusive is something I am passionate about. One way I’m trying to make a difference is through the Sport and Recreation Alliance Youth Advisory Panel. I have been a member since the panel started in 2019 and am encouraged to share a young person’s perspective on getting more young people with disabilities active. So far during my time the Panel has:

  • Attended the Sport and Recreation Alliance Parliamentary Summer Reception at the Houses of Parliament.
  • Created mini campaigns that used sport to try and reduce knife crime, which were used to assist Bedfordshire police with their campaigns and work around knife crime.
  • Introduced subgroups which includes the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group which is focused on driving social change and championing equality and diversity.
  • Developed plans to reach out to hard-to-reach disability and inclusion groups such as Hindu Youth UK and the Muslim Youth Council.
  • Met virtually with Sporting Equals, who promote ethnic diversity across sport and physical activity, to discuss why people from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds do not participate in physical activity.

I was lucky enough to attend the annual Sport and Recreation Alliance Parliamentary Summer Reception in the House of Commons in 2019, where I spoke to MPs, members of the House of Lords and interested stakeholders. A highlight was meeting retired international wheelchair racer and UK Active Chair Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, who talked with me about increasing young people’s involvement in physical activity and some of the barriers young people with disabilities face to participating in sport.

Matthew at the 2019 Sport and Recreation Alliance Parliamentary Summer Reception at the House of Commons.

Action for International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

For me, the International day of Sport for Development and Peace is more important than ever this year, as it has been challenging to be active during this unprecedented health crisis. For disabled people, there has been a harmful effect on their activity levels with research from the Activity Alliance showing twice as many disabled people felt Coronavirus reduced their ability to be active compared to non-disabled people.    

In February 2021, the Activity Alliance launched their second annual Disability and Activity survey, which provides a greater understanding about disabled people’s attitudes and involvement in physical activity. Learn more, here.

The pandemic has also affected our mental health, which can be improved by being physically active. So, ensuring we are all active as much as possible is key. If you would like to have a go at any sport, I recommend visiting the Active Partnerships website, where you can find your local Active Partnership. This will have listings of sport activities in your local area.

Finally, to find out more about participation of children and adults from Black and Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, Sport England’s ‘Sport for all? Why ethnicity and culture matters in sport and physical activity’, read the report, here.

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