Study shows sport improves quality of life of players with a disability

A unique study into wheelchair tennis in developing countries has highlighted the role sport plays in improving players’ quality of life.

Dr Anthony Papathomas and Emma Richardson from Loughborough University’s Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport undertook research with the Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund (WTDF) to understand the psychosocial impact of tennis on disabled players in developing countries.

They interviewed over 30 players, coaches and officials from countries including Iran, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, Romania and Yemen.

Players reported improved confidence, self-esteem, social well-being and independence. For many, tennis gave them the first opportunity to meet and share advice with people with similar disabilities, and to travel outside their own country and experience different cultures. Players explained they felt less isolated.

Improved fitness levels and the support of individuals with specialist disability knowledge has made more players more physically able.

Wheelchair tennis can also provide access to further education, with three of the 16 players interviewed achieving university sport scholarships. 

Dr Papathomas said:

“This study is the first to fully engage with a range of developing nations, which means we gain a broad and representative understanding of the role wheelchair tennis plays across those countries. Previous studies have typically involved UK-based or North American participants.

“There are a lot of things we still don’t understand about disability sport in countries such as Iran and the Yemen Republic. Our study addresses this imbalance and shows wheelchair tennis can have a huge impact on the lives of people living outside of the western world.

“It highlights the real need for developing countries to develop and support disability sport programmes.”

The WTDF is an international initiative that provides sustainable wheelchair tennis programmes in developing countries with the aim of improving quality of life of participants through wheelchair tennis.

The Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport is part of Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS).


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