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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Swimmer gives up Paralympic dream
by Malcolm Prior
BBC News Online, Berkshire

Francis Dart
Francis Dart: "I am absolutely disgusted with the sport"
For Paralympic silver medallist Francis Dart, the success of Team GB's swimmers in Athens is tinged with bitterness.

The world and UK record-holder has been forced to watch this week's events from his home in Reading, Berkshire.

His dreams of further Paralympic success were scuppered when athletes with learning disabilities were dropped from the Games.

Disgusted at his treatment, the 25-year-old has now vowed to stop competing at international level.

It makes me so angry seeing all my friends on TV, when I was there with them four years ago, and I should be there now
Francis Dart
Mr Dart, from Earley, who is now driving buses in Reading, told BBC News Online: "I have decided not to renew my international card because I am disgusted with the sport and how it has treated us."

The swimmer, who scooped silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the Sydney Games four years ago, was hoping to be standing on the winner's podium this year.

But years of training went to waste after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) refused to change its mind over a ban put in place after the 2000 Games.

The categories for athletes with an IQ under 75 were dropped after it was found Spain's basketball team fielded players with fake learning disabilities.

Francis Dart
The 25-year-old has reached the top flight of his sport
An IPC meeting on the category's future is to be held in November, but Mr Dart says he has given up on his dreams of further international success after the ban ended his funding.

"It makes me so angry seeing all my friends on TV, when I was there with them four years ago and I should be there now.

"But I am also angry for people of a younger age who have not had the chance to do what I have done.

"I would have loved to have been there, but it is worse for people who could have been there for the first time.

"They may never get to the Paralympics. They have had their dreams shattered," he said.

A number of our top swimmers and other athletes have not renewed their registration as they are so devastated
Geoff Smedley, UKSA chief executive
His mother, Diane, herself a swimming coach who took her son into the pool before he was one, told BBC News Online: "Swimming is the thing that kept him going.

"He had nothing to look forward to whatsoever other than his swimming. We could see him progressing through it."

Geoff Smedley, chief executive of the UK Sports Association For People with Learning Disability (UKSA) - a national charity supported by UK Sport - said: "Francis is not alone. A number of our top swimmers and other athletes have not renewed their registration as they are so devastated.

"For people like Francis, who has competed in three Paralympics, this was probably their last Paralympic opportunity.

"They are bitterly disappointed."

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