Paralympic-great David Weir has blamed a lack of sponsorship and media interest for a failure to capitalise on interest in disability sports following the London Games.
The wheelchair athlete, who has won a record six gold medals for Great Britain, says Paralympic sports have fallen victim to a “four-year-cycle of interest” around the Games and more money needs to be invested.
The Paralympic Games begin today in Tokyo with Weir set to compete in wheelchair marathon racing and on the track – including the 5,000m and 1,500m.
The 42-year-old praised the strength of the GB team, but claimed that more medals could be won if sports were given more coverage away from the Paralympics.
He told ITV News London: “Paralympic sports is healthy, but we need a bit more backing from sponsors and money, so we can improve and get better and win more medals for our country.
“With track racing, we just seem to be forgotten about until it’s the Paralympics again.”
Weir won four gold medals at the Games in London in 2012, becoming the face of wheelchair racing and fueling a huge rise in interest in the sport.
Politicians and the sporting authorities hoped the Games would leave a lasting legacy, pushing more young people to participate in sport.
Weir says that while more people are taking part, broadcasters and sponsors are not taking advantage.
He added: “The numbers with Paralympic sports have gone up. I just don’t think the publicity has gone up for us. I don’t think the media, and sponsors do enough for us. I think that’s where it has not improved.
“We don’t want it to just be a four-year cycle and that’s what it seems to be continuously. We don’t get the coverage like everyone else.”
Weir’s appearance in Tokyo will surprise many fans of the sport. He had vowed “never to put on a British vest again” following his public fallout with British Athletics following the Games in Rio.
Having fought back from a battle with depression since, Weir decided to compete in Tokyo after setting impressive times in events last year.
Weir said: “The only reason I came back on the track was because of Covid and not having any marathons. I needed to go and do some kind of racing.
“At the end of the day I will never forget what happened to me [at the Rio Games], but the questions need to be asked to British Athletic to why they’re still on the coaching role.
“That’s got nothing to do with me. I’m just here to represent myself and represent my country.
“I’m just enjoying life, I’m enjoying training, and I’m enjoying racing.”