British wheelchair basketball star Amy Conroy believes her sport’s dark days are finally over as she braces for the Tokyo Paralympics and the subsequent launch of the world’s first fully-professional women’s league in the sport later this year.
Ten years ago the still-teenaged Conroy was faced with no option but to pursue her passion for the sport by training alone in local sports halls, where she would turn the lights off and work out in the dark in order to save on the rental charge.
But two Paralympic Games and a world silver medal later, Conroy, now 28, is convinced the start of the four-team Women’s Premier League in December will provide unprecedented opportunities to grow the sport and as a consequence the nation’s talent pool for future Games.
Conroy told the PA news agency: “It’s a massive move for our sport and for disability sport in general.
“For young girls, getting involved in disability sport can be quite daunting, but this is going to be accessible and visible and it is going to bring in many more players.
“It’s worlds apart from when I first started and was trying to make the team. I’d be training in the local sports hall and I’d get a discount if I turned out the lights. The nearest team was a guys’ team one-and-a-half hours away, so options were really at a minimum.”
The four-team league will revolve around university franchises at Cardiff Met, Loughborough, East London and Worcester, all of which will become centres of excellence, and will provide opportunities for the best players from abroad to also feature.
British wheelchair basketball chief executive Lisa Pearce hopes it will help the women’s team make the crucial final leap from in or around the podium – the GB women missed out on a medal in Rio in 2016 after losing the battle for bronze – to the top.
She said: “What we are creating is a new elite level which is solely for women, and which will attract the best players from around the world, and create a week-in, week-out level in the sport which we have only previously seen at a Paralympic Games.
“This is about providing that opportunity and raising the standards in the British game, but it is also about how we can create that environment which will facilitate our women’s move up the world rankings from our current number two to number one.”