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Are we ready to embrace disabled sport?

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 08:04 UK time, Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Jerome Singleton and Oscar Pistorius compete at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games are being talked up a lot this year and there seems to be a greater awareness of the event and not just for the sporting spectacle we're about to see.

Those who know a bit about it are keen to see double amputee and "blade runner" Oscar Pistorius in action. Those who know a little bit more are keen to watch the metal crunching cut and thrust of wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby where, alongside the physio, you'll also find a welder on the bench.

The Paralympics were bound to be that bit more visible in our own country but it is only now that many of us have discovered the historical significance the Games have for Britain.

Previously we may have associated Stoke Mandeville hospital with the late Jimmy Savile and his fundraising but now we're very aware that Dr Ludwig Guttmann created a national wheelchair games there in 1948 running parallel with the London Olympics of the same year.

The Games were a knock-on effect of an innovative rehabilitation regime he implemented at the hospital. The injured World War II servicemen he encountered when he first arrived were only expected to live for two years; they were kept comfortable in bed until they died.

Guttmann's sporting rehabilitation programme changed all that and led to a far higher life expectancy for people with spinal cord injuries. The first world Paralympic Games followed in 1960 in Rome with London 2012 now being the 15th Paralympic Games.

Channel 4 is the official television broadcaster of the 15th Games and have put a lot of marketing and production effort into bringing them to a wider audience than before, with over 500 hours promised to UK viewers. Could anyone have missed it?

Last night Jon Snow suggested that our GB Paralympians are becoming "household names" and certainly the broadcaster has been working hard at trying to make them so, with short films about individual athletes running in the early evening for many months now.

The trick that Channel 4 had to achieve was that, once they'd committed themselves to the coverage, they needed to make people watch it by piquing their interest.

They had to comprehensively set about teaching viewers who the little-known "super-human" stars are, and in some instances have had to explain the niche disability sports they compete in.

Important figures in Sport and politics have stepped up to tell us that the games will "dazzle" and "inspire". Seb Coe said those watching the sports would be "blown away". But there is a level of heartfelt social responsibility breaking through in words and actions.

At the lighting of the English cauldron in Trafalgar Square, London's mayor Boris Johnson said: "The Olympics showed what we can do and the Paralympics show what kind of country we are. It shows a country that's changed very much for the better. I'm not saying that it's perfect, there's still a lot to be done."

President of the Paralympic movement, Sir Philip Craven, has told us how he wants the Games to erase the word "disability" from the lexicon; he says he "detests" it. He has high hopes that London 2012 games will lead to "far more people playing sport" and "a change in attitudes".

Though breaking down these invisible barriers might be a bit hard to measure, new accessible housing, inclusive sport and better customer care, are some of the more tangible projects that the London Paralympics has been a catalyst to, so far.

But will we all want to see TV coverage of the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi? Or the next summer Games at Rio 2016? And is there a worldwide clamour to push this recently unearthed disability agenda across the globe, or are we just feeling it more because it's our games?

The significance of London 2012 Paralympics will be in the legacy and it might take a little while before we can fully appreciate the impact of that.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm in two minds. Much as I admire the athletes' determination to overcome their disabilities, there is something deeply disconcerting about watching people with missing limbs competing against each other.

  • Comment number 2.

    Every long journey begins with a small step...we have had many steps alreay...if London 2012 helps the world move along with its acceptance an understanding of the Paralympics (like it started with Dr Ludwig Guttmann) then this is a very worthwhile process...I really hope TV coverage increases for each successive games..that is the only way to banish ignorance..

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm really looking forward to it, I like sport in general so I'm not worried if its Usain Bolt on the track or the wheelchair basketball players, if its played on an equal playing field (pun intended) lets watch it and be excited by it!

  • Comment number 4.

    Willl Cameron attend the games, the man leading a gov decimating the welfare system. Our paralympic champions are about to lose their beneifts, many are losing motability transport. The reality is not gold, silver, or bronze. The reality is disabled people being denied Incapacity Benefit and DLA, told to get a job, struggling to buy food, housebound, depressed and suicidal.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with 3. fortrosian - sport is a celebration of human endeavour, regardless of anything.

  • Comment number 6.

    Where is the Paralympic iPhone app ? There was one for the Olympics, so why is the BBC not treating the Paralympics equally in this regard. I used the Olympic app a lot to keep up with the latest news and results as I was overseas, but cannot keep up with the Paralympics in the same way.

  • Comment number 7.

    I highly doubt any broadcaster will commit to showing a comprehensive ammount of footage from either the 2014 winter or 2016 summer paraolympics. If they did I am sure it would be watched by a decent amount of people but I cant see anyone willing to take the supposed risk

  • Comment number 8.

    I work in a primary school in Blackpool; our local sports celebrity is Shelley Woods who visits us and other schools in the area on a regular basis when training etc allows. To our children she is perceived as simply a gold medal winning athlete it is only the adults who see the wheelchair first

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with the comments at 3, the determination these guys show equals or more often surpasses that shown the the Olympics; regardless of whether they have a disability that level of drive and commitment is inspiring in itself.
    For Ponty_Man, I think the Olympic app has automatically updated to include the Paralympics, mine certainly has. Might be worth checking your app store.

  • Comment number 10.

    Pontyman - I've both official London 2012 apps. If you go back in you'll see there's an update to change it to the Paralympics. Both apps are called London 2012 and not Olympics 2012 for that reason. Hopefully any positive press & that Britains riding off the back of the Olympics is all good to get people watching. Then they may be more open to it. People embraced handball why not the Paralympics!

  • Comment number 11.

    Ponty_Man - the free Paralympics app is definitely available for the iPhone at least. Its got the Channel 4 logo and is called "C4 Paralympics" in the app store - its currently also under "Editors Choice". Can't wait for the games to start!

  • Comment number 12.

    @8 This explains it perfectly

  • Comment number 13.

    Or the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, 2014 . . . . . .

    I for one will be watching tonight and throughout the Paralympic Games. Please don't forget Glasgow 2014.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yeah, great, the paralympics are. If you're fairly well off, that is.

    If you're poor and disabled, I'm not sure how you could possibly hope to compete in a sport - the DWP would take your benefits away after someone shopping you for being able to move.

  • Comment number 15.

    I look forward to the day when Paralympians can compete in the same Games as able bodied athletes.

  • Comment number 16.

    cant wait. already seen the olympics, now off to see paras on the weekend.
    i know they are now @ the same venue, but how long b4 they are all at the same time? I cant see why not & think it would be great

  • Comment number 17.

    @14. Auqakuh .... So being seen as having a disability means you can't move or take part in any sport? This is precisely the attitude Dr Guttmann wanted to stamp out. I heard this recently, and it made so much sense, "it shouldn't be seen that your disability makes you unable to do something, but your ability that makes you able to do things ..."

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm very much looking forward to seeing some of the events, I caught a glimpse of the archery and the basketball and I am very keen to see the athletes in actions and to see some of the achievements made by the athletes and their teams, they are a great inspiration to other folks, both disabled and non disabled.

    A wonderful celebration of human desire to succeed against all the odds.

  • Comment number 19.

    Why don't we have the Paraolympics first? Straight after the opening ceremony? Why does it have to be after the 'normal' Olympics?

  • Comment number 20.

    I am extremely looking forward to the start of the Paralympic games, however, I believe that large percentage of the UK still have 'stone-age' attitudes when it comes to disability. Many people are completely uneducated, close-minded, or downright ignorant towards issues with disability, and whether the Paralympic games changes this for the current generation, who knows.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't think its a question of being ready to embrace, more if we care to.
    Surly we've moved on as a society through the days of tolerance, acceptance and then tokenism to allow people to just be, without the condescending patronage. Though the BBC and CH4 are bordering on what is propaganda.
    Lets not call them heroes or inspirations from the off, let them prove their worth through actions alone.

  • Comment number 22.

    They are doing with less than a whole body what the majority of us can't do with a complete body. They have overcome many personal barriers to get to where they are today. They should be watched and admired. No questions asked.

  • Comment number 23.

    @Nick the vet - I think it wouldnt be logistically possible - think of the size of the Olympics and Paralympics and the length of time it would go on...for 4 weeks.. They have 2 weeks in between to change the design of the arenas to cater for the Paralympics..

  • Comment number 24.

    Yorkie66 wrote:I look forward to the day when Paralympians can compete in the same Games as able bodied athletes.
    You just lost the chance. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Oscar Pistorius became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics when he entered the men's 400 metres race and was part of South Africa's 4 × 400 metres relay team.

  • Comment number 25.

    22. ... and after the paralympics we can forget about the disabled until the next time. How many disabled people has your employer recruited recently for example ?

    17 ... actually I read 14 as meaning the DWP are cutting the benefits of all disabled, except for those who can't move, so they can no longer afford to live, let alone play a sport.

  • Comment number 26.

    It will be embraced when we make no distinction. Make the Olympics and the Paralympics the same event.

  • Comment number 27.

    I went to the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. Not only was it great sport but it made me far more aware of disability and that's carried on since.
    I think people are going to be really impressed by the elite standard of competition and start thinking about what people can do as well as than what they can't. I'm pleased and proud that the UK is getting behind the Paralympics.

  • Comment number 28.

    WGCFlyer wrote: ... made me far more aware of disability ...

    Very vague ... this could mean, for example, that you've befriended a paranoid schizophrenic, but it could also be saying that you no longer park in disability parking bays.

  • Comment number 29.

    Excellent athletes, like the other olympians: hard work, determination, self-discipline, talent plus greater challenges of making workarounds. The events provide great watching for spectators. Wholly endorse 14. and 25. comments. The current approach to disabled by DWP is menacing and a disgraceful attack on vulnerable. Incredible that this happens here -shame!

  • Comment number 30.

    Don't bother to comment if you feel at all uneasy with the spectacle of disability sport. Even if you express admiration for the athletes themselves, as your comment will be "referred for further consideration".

    This discussion is for unequivocally politically correct remarks only.

  • Comment number 31.

    At first, I was looking at Paralympic events as being the exact copy of their Olympic counterparts with allowances made for the disability, but now I'm appreciating the sports in their own right. There's no mystery as to why wheelchair rugby was the first event to sell out, it's magnificent.

  • Comment number 32.

    The problem is that sport is not about the effort, it is about the achievement, and often achievements gained through natural advantages that the individual has no control of.

    A 5'0" tall man will never run as fast as Usain Bolt, even though he might train as hard and try as hard. Should we create a category of 100m for people under 5'1"?

  • Comment number 33.

    It seems that there are ethical problems with para-sports too ie 'boosting' by breaking toes etc. Just as dim as all the drug-taking, blood-transfusing, growth-hormone-taking...

    Sport of any kind is no longer fun, it's about acheiving, getting money, being famous rah-de-rah, and, awfully, demonstrating extreme behaviour which I don't think is a good example to the young at all.

  • Comment number 34.

    There is nothing 'stone age' about my lack of interest. I don't watch sport to see people overcoming adversity, I watch it for people running faster, jump higher (etc.) than any human has done before... in sports I enjoy. In sport I do not care about the odds anybody has overcome - I prefer watching Ronaldo playing to somebody nicer and more morally worthy who can't play as well.

  • Comment number 35.

    Incidentally, I've studied, played and worked with people with all manner of so-called disabilities. I've dated a deaf girl and a girl with one leg and have been regularly passed on runs in Fulham by a guy with a prosthetic leg - and I run pretty fast. So I really don't need sanctimonious band wagon jumpers telling me I have a problem for not feeling any desire to sit and watch the Paralympics.

  • Comment number 36.

    I am full of admiration for these guys (and girls) playing sport. But any sport is entertainment and use of leisure time, whether that is playing it or watching it. Do I want to watch the Paralympics? In a word...No.

  • Comment number 37.

    Alex Blanco, I am not going to be sanctimonious, but I do think you are wrong! Not from point of athletes being morally worthy, but purely from a sporting point of view.

    It is very much possible to see an exciting football match involving players that are not as good as Ronaldo. With that it mind, it is clearly possible to find interesting and competitive events in the Paralympics.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    Since Oscar Pistorius has run in the Olympics, we now know how he ranks against able-bodied runners. However, that does not mean that his races will not be exciting to watch. The 100m in particular will be a tight one.

    As for murderball, that will be worth watching!

  • Comment number 40.

    My 11:30 comment was "referred for further consideration". Does it really take eight hours (and counting) to decide if my comment broke one of your rules, or are you simply putting it on hold until the topic expires because it gives an unwanted negative response?

    Sorry, I thought is was a serious question, not a version of "Does my bum look big in this?"

  • Comment number 41.

    The irony of the PM discussing changing attitudes, while engaging in the most savage cuts to benefits for disabled people since the second world war; unwilling to tax those who can afford to pay but condemn those in poverty to further poverty. He has no place at these Paralympics.. That aside can't wait for a week and a half of awesome sport! Bring it on..

  • Comment number 42.

    Look forward to it but hope they can explain how they avoid the trap of the least injured being the one who wins.

    PS The Olympic movement must take out the male female split where gender makes no difference. it is a bit like saying the women are disabled when they are not in any way for those sports.

  • Comment number 43.

    G Cox... Injured.. Careful! Secondly, all athletes go through careful testing to ensure they are in the correct classification, to avoid exactly what you describe... It's not an issue at all, and clearly explained.

  • Comment number 44.

    I wish it wasn't considered "disabled sport", I recall getting annoyed at the female presenter - I think it was Denise Lewis - who when asked about Oscar Prestorius competing in the Olympics was fairly patronising as it didn't matter as Oscar wasn't beating /challenging the regular athletes but if he started beating them then that would be different.
    Good luck to all the competitors

  • Comment number 45.

    I support the paralympics and its aims.
    But I couldn't even get there as a spectator.
    I would put my hand up to "disabled", too, however much Sir Philip detests it. In some contexts it is a term that fits.
    Do you now have to be a successful sportsman to be accepted as an admirable "differently-abled" person?
    Please remember the ones you don't see because we're housebound.

  • Comment number 46.

    I only hope the downside isn't felt by regular non athletes who have disabilities. Its bad enough just now with people being told "I have your illness & I can work why don't you" - without it being "I saw the paralympics and if they can sprint blind or in a wheelchair why can't you?"
    Hope everyone enjoys the games

  • Comment number 47.

    Are we ready to embrace disabled sport? I thought we already had.

  • Comment number 48.

    To those complaining about benefits cuts: Our receptionist had cerebral palsy, yet I have aquaintences, far less disabled, who are on benefits. Something is wrong. Also, if we are going to demand that anybody with a disability automatically gets benefits, why are we bothering with employment equality legislation & onerous building regulations for the workplace? It seems contradictory.

  • Comment number 49.

    Re 46 - I am really looking forward to watching the games, just as I did with the olympics and hope that they will educate and inspire both disabled and non-dis alike.
    But I already get "if you weren't so fat you wouldn't need that", (actually the drugs that keep me alive and the condition itself that make me put weight on), am I now going to get "if they can do that, you should be able to"?

  • Comment number 50.

    Lots of people are planning to watch the paralympics. I wonder if they'll enjoy it.

  • Comment number 51.

    I am deaf. I regard the paralympics as a media and politician fest and the televising as utterly stupid. It as if a bunch of deaf people attempted to perform opera. We might have fun and be regarded as brave for trying but our efforts would come a very poor second to music made by the hearing. it is distracting from the difficulties the disabled face every day.

  • Comment number 52.

    Some excellent comments, TheMardler and Alex Blanco especially. I am amazed at what people can achieve and respect them all. However I really only want to watch a few sports and then only to see excellence (Tiger Woods, Messi, Phil Taylor) and so, with respect, the paralympics is not attracting me. I do though remain almost in awe of what other people can achieve.

  • Comment number 53.

    Are we ready to embrace disabled sport?.......The BBC obviously aren't ready because I was watching the Opening Ceremony on Channel 4.

  • Comment number 54.

    Are 2.4m people really going to watch this or is it more lies from Locog to make demand look high and try to shift all the tickets? I personally wouldnt watch the Paralympics if it was held at the bottom of my garden. I respect the disabled and im sure if i was disabled i would play sport myself and enjoy it. I wouldnt expect people to watch though.

  • Comment number 55.

    I thought I probably would watch the paralympics, but after the opening ceremony I'm going to get fed up with the adverts on the UK TV channel 4. Compared to the BBC, the quality of the presenting was not as good, and oh my the continuous references to wars by the commentators. I switched off before the end. I think I'm done with watching the paralympics.

  • Comment number 56.

    Currista, I did not say there were not interesting (for some) and competitive events, merely that I am not interested in watching them. I don't watch dressage either. I just have no interest. Who knows, perhaps I'll flick on the TV, accidentally catch an event and be enthralled this time. But I haven't before so I doubt it.

  • Comment number 57.

    Well I've just watched GB against Germany in wheelchair basketball and must admit at first I found it a bit strange, the wheelchairs did distract me, however by the end the match was so exciting and close I forgot about the chairs - it was just sport and it was fantastic. I shall definitely continue watching if this is a taste of what to expect. Congrats to GB for a fantastic effort.

  • Comment number 58.

    After disappointment with the CH4 coverage of the opening ceremony, thought I'd give the paralympics one more try. Pleasantly surprised, it's really interesting, just as enthusiasitc when UK are winning, and adverts a welcome chance to put kettle on. To think, CH4 almost lost me completely after the ceremony but I'm glad I've given it a 2nd chance.


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