Snooker and Paralympic Legacy

As many will know, SHA is dedicated to working to grow grassroots snooker across the UK and has done some amazing work in making the game accessible to many different disadvantaged groups - especially young people with special needs as demonstrated by SHA hosting the upcoming U25s British Disability Snooker Championships in October. To further this goal SHA recently relocated to the Olympic Legacy Park where there is some incredible work being done to expand the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic games and grow sport across the city and the country as a whole.

This has made us ponder the legacy of the Paralympic games in this country, we as a nation just witnessed our Paralympic athletes do remarkably well collecting an astonishing tally of 124 medals (41 of which are Gold) placing Team GB in second place behind China. Our sporting stars in Tokyo did the nation proud and have inspired a new generation of disabled people to take up sport. Many young people across the country witnessed the amazing work of disabled sporting stars like Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockcroft and Dame Sarah Storey and, for many, saw for the first time that their disability did not have to be an obstacle to stop them from succeeding or participating in sport.

It is this inspiration from the tremendous success of our Paralympic athletes and the work of Ray Harrison (on the 29th anniversary of his death) that has lead us at SHA to revisit our dream of getting snooker back in the Paralympics to further inspire young disabled people to get involved in this wonderful sport and really do great things to benefit themselves and the sport as a whole.

Back in 2012 Academy founder Stephen Harrison MBE had this to say regarding Snooker and the Paralympics: "I watched the Paralympics in pride and wonder. To see well trained athletes performing to such incredible standards in spite of their disabilities was truly inspiring. Quick, skilful movements, bordering on the dangerous at times were exciting to watch and the satisfaction the athletes felt at their achievements was a joy to see. The obvious pleasure of the participants taking part at every level was enormously satisfying and the knowledge that ‘Great Britain’ ‘Big Business’ and ‘The Unions’ were behind the enterprise, prepared to contribute to the athletes’ training and the quality of their equipment, must have seemed like the culmination of a wonderful dream. Added to this they had the knowledge that the public was supporting them along with the volunteers and the Army. For once I appreciated the oft repeated phrase, ‘We’re all in this together.' The unifying force prevalent throughout the ‘Games’ was simply tremendous and we all knew at the time that Britain was truly unique in offering the planning, imagination and care in bringing about this great spectacle of the Paralympics for the world to see. I felt only one sense of disappointment during the whole fortnight. The number of events accessible to the disabled athletes was understandably confined to certain sports, but I could not understand why the game of Snooker had not been included. I know a number of very good disabled snooker players who were equally as puzzled. I believe the last time the sport was played at an Olympic level was in 1988 in Seoul when it really buzzed along and then after that there does not seem to be any evidence that Snooker was ever included again in the table of events. I ask this question because I know that although Snooker demands high levels of skill, dexterity and movement, it is a game accessible to disabled people, and without the need or use of specialised equipment. My father, Ray Harrison, was highly successful at playing this sport and also highly successful in promoting Snooker to many disabled people. He formed a team at the old Lodge Moor hospital in Sheffield and spent many hours training others while enjoying the game and the atmosphere himself.

Dad was in a wheelchair, a victim of Polio, but he had learned how to lift and move his body into certain positions which gave him full control of the snooker table. One report published in the Sheffield Star in 1984 stated: ‘Ray moves fluidly around a table both backwards and forwards at speed, and it was hard to believe he was handicapped as he had developed his skills to a fine degree which had enabled him to overcome the physical restrictions of his disability.’ At the time Ray had stated to the reporter that there were not many shots that a disabled person could not make. In his opinion you just had to become proficient in positioning the white ball to make it easier for yourself and then you could enjoy the game. Mick Langley (Paralympic Snooker Champion 1988) said, "Ray Harrison was a legend, he was one in a million. He taught me a lot about the game of snooker and I believe that I wouldn't have achieved half of what I have achieved if I had never met him. What a great man!" Using this method enabled Ray to play the sport to a very high level, winning three important medals, silver, bronze and finally the much coveted Paraplegic World Snooker Champion Gold Medal in 1985. He was also described as the perfect ambassador for disabled sport and travelled to Denmark, Iceland and Malta to compete and appear on their T.V. channels. In 1984 he was given the opportunity to travel to America and was greatly disappointed when this competition was cancelled due to a lack of sponsorship. But that was then when the ordinary member