It’s about sport, not disability

Next week sees the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, two weeks of great sport between athletes from all over the world.  It is the second largest sporting event in the world, an extraordinary celebration of elite sporting ability.

Maybe some people will say “So what?” and turn off.  Surely nothing can match the excitement of the “real thing” of the Olympics?  Such as the power of Usain Bolt winning his three gold medals?  Or the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies?

Those who believe that the Paralympics are a poor relation of the Olympic Games are wrong.  They are a natural extension of the Olympics.  Those competing are as glorious an example of human sporting endeavour as the best Olympic athletes.  Whether it is wheelchair rugby, basketball or tennis the sportsmen and women have trained long and hard and have the same competitive desire to take part and do their best.  Indeed, the TV channel promoting the Paralympics has marketed the Games under the slogan “Meet the Superhumans”.
This year’s Paralympics will be the biggest ever: 4,300 athletes from 160 countries including a record number of women athletes.  Over 2.3 million tickets have been sold and the spectators will benefit from the same smooth arrangements of the organisers, the same creativity in presenting the sporting events and the same infectious enthusiasm of the volunteers.

At every stage, the planning and delivery of the Olympics and the Paralympics have been fully integrated with both events given equal priority and attention.  The stadia and the facilities were designed with disabled people in mind.  This joint strategy brings disabled sportsmen on to the same level as their able-bodied colleagues, a far cry from the first Paralympic Games held after the 1948 London Olympics for a few war veterans at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

But the Paralympics is more than a sporting spectacle.  It is about creating a powerful legacy for disabled people worldwide by inspiring people to recognise that disabled people should not be judged by what they can’t do, but by what they can.  It is about harnessing the skills and potential of everyone in society to the benefit of us all.

Fine words and worthy aspirations.  What does this mean in practice?  It means improving transport so that disabled people can travel on the underground and on buses.  It means boosting sporting opportunities to overcome the barriers preventing disabled people from participating in sport.  And it is about awareness: so that we celebrate the achievement of people who want to be a full part of their society.

Jordan has sent a strong team to London. When I saw them off two weeks ago with Prince Raad, who has been an inspiring champion for the disabled in Jordan, the pride of the athletes in going to represent their country was palpable. Jordanian athletes won medals in the last four Paralympic Games including in table tennis and weightlifting.  Let’s hope they do well this time.  And that the efforts of the athletes are celebrated widely throughout the country.

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