“Spellbinding to listen to” – The athlete who revealed the real story of the Fake Paralympians

Dan’s BBC World Service documentary series, The Fake Paralympians, tells the story of one of the worst examples of cheating in sporting history, and the effects it had on athletes with learning disabilities.

When it emerged that the Spanish intellectual disability basketball team had cheated at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, a ban on intellectual impairment sports at the Paralympics was imposed for the next nine years. Swimmer Dan Pepper finally took part in the Paralympics in London 2012.

The ban ruined Dan’s career. So he set out to investigate what happened and told the world about the scandal. The series was a success and more than 20 media outlets picked up the story.

The Fake Paralympians

The Fake Paralympians reveals the story behind the Spanish basketball squad that won gold at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, with it later emerging that only two of the 12 players were genuinely disabled.

Dan meeting member of the Spanish basketball team, Ray

The BBC were interested in the scandal and approached Dan to present.

“With no prior experience of presenting, Dan took to the role like a duck to water”, says Simon Maybin, who series produced The Fake Paralympians for the BBC.

And not all of this happened in the UK, Dan had a week of intensive recording in Spain. Some of these interviews were extra challenging because they had to use a translator.

He also had to navigate being an interviewee himself. He did a number of live interviews to promote the series, and was professional and eloquent when answering questions about what he discovered and his experiences.

Final thoughts

Drawing The Fake Paralympians to a close, Dan added, “I believe that when most people think of someone with an intellectual disability, they expect that person to just roll over and not argue because they don’t have an opinion, they don’t have feelings… because they can just be spoken over and told, oh, you don’t understand. You don’t get this.

People just seem to think, ah, you know, oh, it’s a complaint from a person with an intellectual learning disability, sport or non-sport. And we can just push them off with some jargon and, you know, they won’t kick up a fuss.

“And that has an impact that goes way beyond the fake Paralympians.”

He shares words of advice for aspiring athletes with learning disabilities…

You’ve got to enjoy it, you have to enjoy whatever you’re doing. Believe in yourself when others don’t. Find the coach, or find the person or find the teammate who sees/appreciates you and then everybody else will see you. Don’t just involve everybody straight away.”

Rave reviews

“A spellbinding listen.” – BBC World Series Senior Commissioning Editor

“A careful and revelatory guide to the world of disability sport and its profound effect on him personally…[T]his sensitive and deeply powerful series deserves full attention.” – The Daily Telegraph

“A slow-burning, quietly raging documentary.” – The Observer

Just keep swimming

Dan is now a swimming coach and support worker for the NHS. He has developed a number of coping strategies over the years to help him ensure that his learning disability doesn’t stop him leading an independent life.

He celebrates himself and shares that with the people he coaches.

How does it feel to win?