mark bullock

CHANGING ROOM CHAT: Mark Bullock, advisor in inclusive sport

CHANGING ROOM CHAT: Mark Bullock, advisor in inclusive sport 1024 806 Henman Communications

Mark has more than 25 years’ experience in Paralympic/disability sport, sports development & the broader social impact of sport. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, healthy lifestyles & nutrition. He is an experienced leader, manager, coach and now a consultant working with a number of organisations to promote and develop inclusive sport. He has travelled to more than 80 countries developing wheelchair tennis & attended four Paralympic Games & two Olympics in various capacities from coach to Technical Delegate.

He has extensive experience of delivering award winning sports programmes in developing countries. He also managed the largest public tennis centre in the UK and delivered community tennis programmes in two cities. Mark is an experienced public speaker having spoken at numerous conferences all over the world. He is a member of the University of Nottingham Sports Board & is also a mentor to current students and has won several awards from the University.

He was a member of International Paralympic Committee Paralympic Games Committee & was a regular delegate to the IPC Sports Council and General Assembly over a number of years. He now writes a regular blog on inclusive with sport & physical activity being the central theme.

Mark, can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I started off as a tennis development officer in Nottingham where I did an element of disability tennis, then moved onto Cardiff and did a similar role there for 18 months or so, returned to Nottingham and did four years as general manager. Joined the ITF in 2001 as wheelchair tennis development officer. Alongside my roles in Nottingham and Cardiff I was also doing a lot of wheelchair tennis coaching. Whilst in Tennis, I went to the Atlanta Paralympic games with Thompson, so went there with her.

mark bullock

You were heavily involved with the ITF for a long time, what did that role entail?

I was in two roles for them, starting off as development officer for them, travelling around the world to a lot of developing countries, starting new programmes and helping active ones. Lobbying to help federations participate in wheelchair tennis. Back then there wasn’t a low-cost wheelchair available, so we were doing our best to get donated wheelchairs into those countries. Then the low-cost wheelchairs came to market which allowed us to become much more impactful in developing countries. In 2008 I took over as Wheelchair tennis manager and did that until 2016, global tour of 150 tournaments, the BNP Paribas Tournament, equivalent of Davis and FED Cup, the work that we did that was supported by the Cruyff Foundation. Heading up the classification side of wheelchair tennis and was almost there for 16.

You served on the IPC Paralympic Games Committee, what was that like and what was your role there?

Technically I am still on it. I’m not quite sure where it is going to go with the new President and I think all of the committees are under review. We were tasked with reviewing the criteria for sports to be on the Paralympic programme, we did a big piece of work around building a set of criteria that sport and disciplines that sports would have to adhere to, to be considered for the games in the future. Gender balance, disability level etc… Sports like wheelchair rugby that are mainly played by men so what does gender equality mean in the movement, so it was and is a really.

In your time with the ITF it is said that you travelled to over 60 countries, is there one place that stands out as your favourite and if so, why?

It’s more 80 actually! All the countries had something unique, when I was in Romania I stayed in a small village, water from the well and milk straight from the cow, some of those experiences were very interesting even though they didn’t relate to the tennis. In Nigeria I saw some really interesting things, I was in Colombia once and a player gave me a friendship bracelet, he was a tetraplegic so couldn’t use hands properly but still made those, developing countries have a lot of fascinating elements, in those countries disabled people are some of the most marginalised people. When we were in Gambia, how did we arrange the tennis around their main source of income, which was begging. Sport has a role in improving the lives of people in these developing countries, helping them and changing people’s views on what disabled people can do.

mark bullock

How has Wheelchair Tennis grown as a sport since you started working within it?

When I started in the early 90’s there were 12 – 15 tournaments on the tour, players were part time. There was no funding and not many tournaments to choose from. Now it’s 150 tournaments in 40 countries, huge growth in competitive opportunities around the world. On the coaching side when I started it was completely voluntary, then we were paid for some of the work we did but not all, and now quite rightly people that coach wheelchair tennis gets paid. The prize fund has also increased dramatically, when I first started there was barely any money and now there is nearly $3 million in prize money. The sport wasn’t in the Grand Slam’s and now it is in all of them in some capacity or another. The journey continues, and the sport is still evolving, the presence in the Grand Slam has brought media courage and interest from all over the world for both the sport and the players. There is still room for growth in prize money and in the amount of countries that have active wheelchair programmes. The ITF has 200-member nations, but a lot of those don’t have active wheelchair tennis programmes. Saying that, not many people could have said that it would have grown as quickly as it has. One of my dreams would be that a disabled person could walk into any tennis club and the club would be fully in tune with how to welcome a blind, deaf or wheelchair player.

Your wife Samanta is a former No. 1 Brazilian wheelchair tennis player, what does she do now?

We met on Tour, when I was a development officer. We do some sport activation together, we are ambassadors for a run in London where people of all creeds and abilities can take part. She’s just appeared in London Fashion Week as a model, for inclusive fashion. She’s also just been involved with UAL for their programme around diverse fashion. My focus is more of activity and sport and Sam’s is more on around inclusive.

mark bullock

If someone was reading this article looking to get involved with wheelchair tennis, what is the best way to do that?

The best route in this country is to contact the Tennis Foundation who will then recommend disability tennis networks or clubs with disability programmes and get involved! There’s a lot going on now, a lot more than the early 90s. They have done some great work and are leading the way to get not just wheelchair, but all disabled players involved with tennis. There are very few nations that do as much in the other impairment types as we are here in the UK so that is something to be very proud of and it will be exciting to see where the other impairment types go as well as they grow. Tennis for people who are visually impaired is quite exciting as to where that is going to go.

Interview and article written by Jack Flannigan – Social Media Manager for Henman Communications.

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