London 2012: Free Games tickets for retired Paralympians

Eton Manor
Image caption Eton Manor will host the wheelchair tennis contest

Every former athlete who has represented Great Britain at the Paralympics is to be given free tickets to the London Games.

The announcement by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) came ahead of Saturday's milestone of 200 days to go to the Paralympics.

The BPA said retired Paralympians would be given two tickets to watch, where possible, the sports they competed in.

Eton Manor, the wheelchair tennis venue for the Games, has also been completed.

Margaret Maughan, the first Briton to win a gold medal at the first Paralympics in 1960, said she was pleased she and other Paralympians were being given the opportunity to attend the Games in London.

She said: "I am very proud to be a Paralympian and I hope that in London I will join many other supporters in cheering on the British team."

Athletes who competed in winter sports and sports that are no longer included in the Paralympics will be allocated either a day pass or tickets to a similar sport.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of the BPA, said: "These athletes represented our nation and this offer goes some way towards celebrating their contribution to the history of the British Paralympic team.

"The BPA was only formed in 1989 meaning that our formal records don't go back to the beginning of the Paralympic movement so we are looking forward to making contact with all British Paralympians through this offer and welcoming them to London."

Retired athletes interested in signing up should register as a member on the BPA's Paralympians' Club website.

Great Britain's number one wheelchair tennis player Peter Norfolk said it was good news that former Paralympians were being celebrated as "historically they have been forgotten".

Mr Norfolk also said he was looking forward to defending his Olympic gold medal from Beijing at the recently completed Eton Manor during the 2012 Games.

He said: "It's fantastic that we have a specific centre being made for us and we are going to leave a legacy there. I think Eton Manor is a wonderful location and it's going to be a wonderful venue for visitors."

Thinking about playing at the Olympics in front of a home crowd he said: "A home crowd brings its own pressures.

"Being a British athlete trying to achieve in a home Games is ten times harder and everyone expects, we expect, but there's a lot of pressure such as funding relying on the outcome.

"It's the biggest thing and the fact that it's London is what people will remember.

"It's going to be an amazing experience but we have to remember it's only a tournament and that the glitter and gold come after it."

Eton Manor, a permanent venue situated in the north of the Olympic Park, will host six events during the Paralympics.

During the Olympic Games it will have temporary training pools for athletes taking part in Aquatics events.

It will then host wheelchair tennis during the Paralympic Games, and remain a training facility for aquatics competitors.

After the Games the plan is to transform Eton Manor into a mix of sporting facilities for local and regional communities.

It will include a tennis centre with four indoor and six outdoor courts, a hockey centre with two competition pitches and five-a-side football pitches.

The new sporting facilities stand on the site of the former Eton Manor Sports Club, which had not been in use since 2001.

War memorial

This community sporting facility was established in the 1900s and by the middle of the last century the Eton Manor Boys' Club had gained a reputation as an elite sporting association.

Peter Wilson, a member of the former club, said he was proud the site was being redeveloped for sport.

"To see it lying there as a wasteland was almost an agony because there was the potential to make something happen," he told the BBC.

"The Olympic Games being based in the East End meant the great past of the club was going to be reinvented and therefore the enjoyment that was given to several thousand young people was going to be in a new adventure that was the Olympic Park.

"The fact that it is going to be used in a sporting element means a lot to me, as the same pleasure the Eton Manor Boys got from playing on this ground will be transferred into the Paralympics."

And as the light blue and dark blue colours of the Eton Manor court surface reflect the colours of the Eton Manor Boys' Club, Mr Wilson added: "It's almost as if the old boys are giving it their seal of approval."

A war memorial located on the site, that honours Eton Manor Boys' Club members who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars, was also to be retained and restored as part of the redevelopment.

Wheelchair tennis originated in the US during the 1970s and made its full medal debut at the 1992 Paralympics.

The only major difference from Olympic tennis competitions is that players are allowed two bounces of the ball. All matches are played over the best of three sets.

Matches are played by athletes with loss of motor function in one or both lower limbs - although there is a special class for quadriplegics.

Singles and doubles events are included in the Paralympic programme.

Earlier this week team leaders from all 20 Paralympic sports, as well as staff from the BPA, were shown around the Paralympic Village where athletes will stay during the Games.

Tickets have yet to go on sale for the wheelchair tennis test event, which will be held at Eton Manor on 3 May.

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