Chesterfield's Ellie Simpson is one of the world's best frame runners yet the sport finds itself in limbo following a recent decision made by the IPC (International Paralympic Committee). Due to their decision to exclude frame running from the official Paris 2024 Paralympic Games schedule, frame running (or race running as it's also known by) will continue to have extremely little media coverage. The recent decision made by the IPC means that frame running must somehow continue without any funding and keep going in the shadows of other disability sports that are getting bigger and more popular as each year passes.
Frame running looked all set to be given an enormous boost in recognition and media coverage with its debut appearance at a Paralympic Games for Paris 2024. To the sport's disbelief though, the IPC's recent decision to omit frame running from the official Paris 2024 Paralympics schedule has changed everything for the sport which is crying out for coverage and a level playing field.
In an interview with Derbyshire Media Company, Ellie told us about how she found out about the IPC's bitterly disappointing decision:
"We weren't actually told. It just came out in the Paris Programme that we weren't on there. I read the programme back to front a couple of times, just to make sure that I'd not misread it or something. But no, we weren't there. There was no announcement made or any messages sent directly to us."
In terms of why this decision was made, Ellie (who has cerebral palsy) has at least been provided with more details since first finding out but the reasoning still feels hugely unsatisfactory:
"They have now given a reason as to why frame running has been omitted. A Paralympic sport has to have two aims since the Rio 2016 Games. The first is to increase female participation and to increase participation for athletes with high support needs. Frame running is classed as a sport for athletes with high support needs. They've said they've upped female participation with all the sports included for Paris 2024 and then going forward from there, they will look at meeting their target to include more events with athletes that have high support needs."
This begs the question as to whether it's possible for this decision to be overturned and for frame running to be given a lifeline and finally be considered a Paralympic sport as well as a disability sport. Unfortunately, the prospects of a change of heart don't look encouraging:
"Unfortunately, it's very unlikely. We had a meeting recently with members of our international body. Unfortunately, they said in that meeting that it will be highly unlikely to get this decision overturned. We're now looking at LA 2028 to make our debut at the Games."
The decision is obviously a bitterly hard one to accept for the sport and has led to some tough questions; chiefly, where does frame running go from here?
"This is going to do a lot of damage to frame running. It will have a knock-on effect on our competition pathways. Because it's still not a Paralympic sport, we don't receive any funding and we don't get selected for national events. The whole thing almost collapses because without that Paralympic sport banner, we just don't get recognition."
There is very little information online about frame running which makes it very difficult for new people to learn about the sport and become engaged with it. Its lack of presence online (especially compared to other disability sports) is puzzling and there can be no debate that this is a sport widely ignored by the IPC. for instance, there is not even a mention on the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games Wikipedia page that that frame running was initially considered for selection. Other sports such as golf, karate, para dance sport and powerchair football are all mentioned on the page as sports that were considered for the Paris 2024 programme but wasn't included in the end. Frame running wasn't even granted a mention. But why is this? Why is frame running repeatedly muted? For the sport to progress, it needs Paralympic recognition to reveal its true potential but progression is now being restricted to a snail's pace. Ellie was asked why she feels frame running is largely ignored:
"I don't really get it myself because I know people that when they've watched the sport for the first time, they think it's incredible. Frame running is a really dynamic sport. You're seeing athletes who can't walk, get up and run and that's incredible. So I really don't know why frame running is not getting the recognition from the IPC because, surely, more people would tune in and watch the Paralympics if it was involved. I just don't know." "I'll always take part in this sport because I love it. There's no doubt in my mind that I will continue. But now the dynamic has changed. I've got nothing really to aim for." When asked about what 2022 holds for her as a competitor, there is sadly little to put in the diary: "There will be some competitions around the UK that I can enter next year - but that's about it really. I don't think any other events will be on offer for frame running." Hopefully, in the coming months, this decision will be reviewed and reversed so sports fans finally get to see what frame running has to offer and to give athletes like Ellie Simpson the spotlight to show how incredible she is in a sport for people with high support needs. Without a change of heart from the IPC, frame running faces a long and frustrating wait to compete at the same pedestal as other disability sports like wheelchair rugby, boccia and goalball.