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It’s in the blood basically. I’m not very good at sitting around at Games not doing anything.

Antony John Sainsbury OBE, known as Tony, has been involved in disabled sport for decades, beginning in the mid-1970s when he started coaching members of the Manchester & District Disabled Sports Club, to the present day. In this time, he has led Great Britain in various support roles at five Paralympic Summer Games.

Early Life

Tony studied Management of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, qualifying with a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) in the late 1960s. In August 1976, Mrs Dorothy Vernon, Chairman of the Lancastrian School's Sports Committee, introduced him to the Manchester and District Disabled Sports Club (later known as Manchester Disabled Athletes). He agreed to provide more regular coaching after coaching some club members in field events and basketball whilst also being Head of Physical Education at St Bede's College, Manchester.

Tony moved on to become Principal Recreation Officer for Manchester City Council (1979-1989), Assistant Director Sport & Leisure Services and Sports Services DSO Manager for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (1989-1992), before becoming the first Director of Sport at the University of Manchester (1993-1998), while developing a parallel career in Paralympic sport management.

Involvement in the Paralympic Games

Tony Sainsbury, Team Manager, leading the British team at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Games

Tony Sainsbury, Team Manager, leading the British team at the opening ceremony of the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Games.
Image ©Ian Brittain

As British Team Chef de Mission (team manager) from 1980 to 1996, Tony was responsible for planning operations and managing the team at five consecutive summer Paralympic Games, Arnhem 1980, Stoke Mandeville 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996. He was also involved in the early development of the British Paralympic Association from its foundation in 1989.

Tony was a volunteer Paralympic Integration Advisor to the unsuccessful Manchester Olympic & Paralympic Bid Committees in 1990 and 1994.

From 1998 to 2000, Tony was part of the Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee. Initially, as a Paralympic Operations Consultant, he reviewed the Paralympic Games operating plans, then, during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, he was Village Operations Centre Senior Duty Manager, a role responsible for the well-being of the athletes. 

Moving on to the Salt Lake Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2002 as a Paralympic Games Consultant (2000-2002), Tony had responsibility for reviewing the planning operations for key athlete services such as the village, entertainment, transport and catering.  

Tony joined the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) in December 2003, where he undertook a range of roles. 

As an Olympic Village & Paralympic Games Integration Specialist, between 2003 and 2005 Tony was responsible for the production of two Themes for the Candidate File, Theme 9 Paralympic Games and Theme 10 Olympic Village. 

He was also Head of Village Management, which carried responsibility for ensuring that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) technical requirements were met and planning the delivery of services for the athletes.

During the London 2012 Games, Tony was Villages General Manager, a role that ended with the handover of the Villages and other accommodation in January 2012. 

In 2008, Tony was seconded by LOCOG to the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games for five months, as a Deputy Head of Logistics. 

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Tony returned to the role of Chef de Mission, this time, for the Independent Paralympic Athletes (IPA) Team, a team of two, Ibrahim Al-Hussein and Shahrad Nasajpour were the first athletes to compete in the Paralympics as refugees and asylum seekers. 

Tony commented

These athletes will help to raise awareness of the plight of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who make difficult decisions and journeys, often with impairments.

Tony is also an honorary Vice-President of the British Paralympic Association.

Recollections

Seoul Reflections by Tony Sainsbury, GB Paralympic Team Manager

Extract from British Paralympic Association Celebratory Handbook

But the occasion which created the most emotional impact was the closing ceremony. This was particularly so, as I was privileged to accompany one of the outstanding athletes in our team, Bob Matthews for the ceremony in his capacity as team flag bearer. Throughout the following hours I described for him everything that was happening visually - the Korean dancers, the tableaus, the dying Paralympic flame and the fireworks. I hope that Bob’s memory of those final hours were enhanced by my meagre descriptions of a spectacle that was truly breathtaking.

His recollections of the Rio 2016 Paralympics are some of the most inspiring. Tony speaks of these displaced athletes and says,

you can watch a video and you can see these guys, and it might just give you, at your very lowest moment, the thought of if they can do that, what can I do?. 

He adds that, even though he was immensely proud to work alongside the British teams, he had

never been so proud as to take this [IPA] team. 

Moreover,

the biggest thrill was walking out with them at the Opening Ceremony, leading the parade. 

Beyond the Paralympic Games

As a volunteer, from 1979 to 1991, Tony was General Secretary and Treasurer for Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball, where he initiated a ten year development programme for wheelchair basketball in the UK.

Appointed Vice-President of the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) in 1988, Tony was a member of the Development Committee.

At the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, Tony was Village Senior Manager, planning operations and liaising with partner organisations on security and emergency planning.

In 2014 he was Head of Villages for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games with responsibility for delivering athlete services across the villages.

Between 2013 and 2021 Tony provided consultancy services about athlete villages for a number of high-profile events, including the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. 

In 2016, he accompanied, then International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President, Sir Philip Craven to the 20th anniversary celebration of Azerbaijan’s’ National Paralympic Committee (NPC) in Baku, where there were discussions with the Azerbaijan NPC’s President, Ilgar Rahimov, about working together to continue the development of para-sport in the country.

Tony’s love for sport is similarly seen in his writing. Since the 1980s he has been publishing literature on disabled sport, such as a 1998 piece on the history. In more recent years he has written articles on the past, present, and future of the Paralympics as well as impassioned pieces on wheelchair basketball (published in 2020). 

In 2010 Tony wrote Paralympics: Past, present and future, described as ‘an analysis of the emergence of the Paralympic Movement’ which was published as part of an educational project promoted by the Olympic Studies Centre.

Tony has contributed massively to collections of Paralympic history ranging from the 1980s to the present. Some particularly interesting memorabilia includes a Barcelona 1992 Olympic t-shirt and a cigarette case from the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, which is believed to display the first use of the word Paralympic.

Tony Sainsbury OBE with our CEO delivering his collection

Tony donating his extensive Paralympic collection to the Trust. Image ©NPHT

Achievements and awards

In 1995 he was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to sport for disabled people.

2009 saw Tony receive the Paralympic Order, the highest achievement for those involved in the Paralympic Movement. It honours someone who has 'exemplified Paralympic ideals through their actions…or rendered outstanding services' for the cause.

The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) recognised Tony with their Gold Medal Triad in 2018, an award for those who 'have contributed to the growth and development of wheelchair basketball in an outstanding manner on both the national and international levels'.

In 2019, Tony, along with Ian Brittain, Bill Mallon and David Davis won the International Society of Olympic Historians, Journal of Olympic History Article Award for The Genesis and Meaning of the Term ‘Paralympic Games’ – read the article here (pages 60-65).

References

  • David Legg and Keith Gilbert, PARALYMPIC LEGACIES, Common Ground Publishing LLC, 2011
  • Armand Thiboutot and Philip Craven, The 50th Anniversary of Wheelchair Basketball, Waxmann, Münster; New York, 1996
  • https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1109621/refugee-paralympic-team-named-tokyo-2020
  • https://www.sportingheritage.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Pilot-Investigation-of-the-Collections-NPHT.pdf 
  • https://www.paralympicheritage.org.uk/arnhem-1980-paralympic-summer-games
  • https://amp.ww.en.freejournal.org/51429289/1/tony-sainsbury.html
  • https://www.insidethegames.biz/writers/24244/tony-sainsbury
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/chef-de-mission-sainsbury-rio-2016-my-proudest-moment
  • https://www.paralympic.org/paralympic-order
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/37194903
  • https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/gla_migrate_files_destination/archives/assembly-reports-culture-disability-sport.pdf
  • https://library.olympics.com/Default/doc/SYRACUSE/208997/paralympics-past-present-and-future-tony-sainsbury?_lg=en-GB
  • https://library.olympic.org/Default/digitalCollection/DigitalCollectionAttachmentDownloadHandler.ashx?documentId=159645&skipWatermark=true
  • https://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspx?DocID=7377
  • https://tonybaldwinson.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/manchester-and-district-disabled-sports-club-manchester-disabled-athletes-committee-minutes-1973-to-1976.pdf
  • https://en-gb.facebook.com/tony.sainsbury.73
  • https://iwbf.org/awards/gold-medal-triad/
  • https://iwbf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/IWBF-0-Handbook-18062021.pdf
  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/tony-sainsbury-81a9b4/?originalSubdomain=nl
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/npc-azerbaijan-celebrates-20-years