Family fight for Paralympic rule change

THE family of a teenager with Down's Syndrome - who has swam his way to world glory - last night called for him to be allowed to compete in the London Paralympics.

THE family of a teenager with Down's Syndrome - who has swam his way to world glory - last night called for him to be allowed to compete in the London Paralympics.

Tom Cole, 17, has won a host of medals for Great Britain - but his dreams of further glory have been dashed after the Games' governing body ruled his condition made him ineligible.

His distraught mother, Barbara, is now campaigning for an instant overhaul of the rules to give her beloved son every chance to compete in 2012.

Speaking from their home in Great Waldingfield, near Sudbury, Mrs Cole said: “Swimming has made Tom feel good about himself.

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“But we have now been told that even if he was the best in the country, he couldn't compete in the Paralympics.

“At the moment, we are feeling very bitter about things, especially with the 2012 Games being held in London.

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“We are desperately hoping we can change people's perspective on this ruling and there are MPs on our side. Every disabled person should have the same rights and at the moment they don't.”

Mrs Cole's comments have been backed by the British Paralympic Association (BPA), which urged the decision-makers - the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) - to change its policies.

A spokesman for the BPA said: “We continue to support the inclusion in the Paralympic Games of athletes with an intellectual disability under the universally-endorsed rules of fair and verifiable classification and competition.”

The IPC ruled earlier this year that competitors with an “intellectual disability” - including Down's Syndrome - could not compete in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics because officials did not think there would be “fair competition”. This ruling is due to be reviewed after the Games in two years time.

It is not the first time the plucky youngster has had to overcome setbacks before achieving world glory.

His mother explained: “The local swimming pool in Sudbury couldn't take him when he was young as they said they couldn't accommodate special needs children at that time. It took us two years to find somewhere.

“We are so proud with what he has achieved - we just try and support him every step of the way.”

A member of the Down's Syndrome Great British Swim Team, Tom's road to success began after he landed the Amateur Swimming Association special achievement award in 2000.

Four years later, he was selected for his first Great British swim team international event at the Down's Syndrome World Championships held in Durban, South Africa.

The youngest male competitor, he narrowly missed out on a 50m breaststroke gold medal but helped win the 4 x 50m medley relay in a world record time.

He was yesterday presented with a Great Britain Olympic t-shirt signed and donated by Adam Ruckwood, Olympic swimmer and Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

Mr Ruckwood said: “Tom and all those involved with his swimming should be very proud indeed. Such achievements are testimony to the hours of hard work that Tom has dedicated to his sport. He is truly a remarkable individual.”

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