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Will the Paralympics be able to match the success of the Olympics?

David Bond | 06:53 UK time, Thursday, 30 August 2012

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn in the coming days between the Olympics and Paralympics. The country was so captivated by the 17 magical days of the Olympics that they are clearly going to be a tough act to follow.

But, as Paralympics chief Seb Coe told me on Wednesday, the two events are all part of the same extraordinary summer of sport. They are not in competition with each other and, over the next 11 days people, will be just as amazed by the exploits of Oscar Pistorius, Ellie Simmonds and David Weir as they were by Mo Farah, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

It is worth remembering, however, that London's Paralympics mark a potential turning point for the movement. Not only is there a sense of the Games coming home 64 years after Dr Ludwig Guttmann developed the original concept of disability sport at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but there is a sense of the Paralympics using the launchpad of London to move into an even brighter future.

The ticket sales for these Games are quite extraordinary. Locog, the organising committee for both the Olympics and Paralympics, is confident all 2.5m tickets will sell out. Paralympians will be competing in front of crowds unlike any they will have seen before.

Commercially the Games are trying to break new ground. This is the first time an organising committee has run a competitive tender process for the domestic TV rights. This resulted in Channel 4 winning the exclusive rights, breaking the long standing relationship with the BBC. Channel 4 are thought to have paid around £8m or £9m for the rights - far more than the nominal fee the BBC paid for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

The vast majority of that money will be paid straight to the production company which provides the coverage and it is debatable whether Locog will see any profit from this. But this is a nuanced point. The implication from the tender process was that this is now an event that does not need handouts from organising committees or broadcasters because it has genuine media value.

To emphasise the point, these Games are being broadcast in more countries than ever before - over 100 - although it is worth noting the attitude of some of the biggest territories. American broadcaster NBC, the biggest media partner of the Olympics, will show just four highlights shows on network television, with the majority of coverage appearing online.

This is also the first time an organising committee has sold specific sponsorship rights for the Paralympics. The main deal with Sainsbury's is worth about £20m but 15 of the 55 London 2012 backers - including most notably Panasonic and BT - have also paid for extra rights to the Paralympics.

The organising commitee boasts this is the most commercially successful Paralympics in history and while the £30m income is relatively small in comparison to the overall £2bn budget it shows the value of the event is growing.

For the athletes, the profile is increasing, too. Double Paralympic champion Simmonds is plastered all over one building on the edge of the Olympic Park, while there are clearly now greater opportunities for Paralympians in London.

So how will the Paralympics be judged?

There can be no doubts about the public appetite for the Games. But many of the 2.5m ticket holders won't have seen athletes with physical, visual or intellectual impairments. They will not have come across goalball or understand immediately why there are 29 different 100m finals in athletics, or 148 gold medals on offer in swimming. Compare that with the 34 up for grabs at the Olympics.

But, ultimately, the British public understand world-class competition and I have met no-one who is not intrigued and excited by what lies ahead.

As with the Olympics, a lot will depend on whether there are big sporting moments that engage the country and the rest of the world. Home success will be critical, too. The British Paralympics team, known as ParalympicsGB, are aiming for their biggest medal haul yet, targeting 103 and second place in the table.

But the wider mission is to use the spotlight to challenge perceptions of disability. British Prime Minister David Cameron says it is crucial the Paralympics helps change people's views.

There are campaigners, however, who feel uncomfortable about a government championing the Paralympics and disabled sport at the same time as they are overseeing cuts to welfare support for people with disabilities. More than half of disabled people in the UK already live below the poverty line.

Some campaigners actually argue that the Paralympics - a celebration of what extraordinary people can do rather than what they cannot - sets the battle for equality for ordinary people back.

For my part, it is hard to see how the next 11 days can be anything other than a positive influence on the public perception of people who have achieved so much despite disadvantages most cannot begin to understand.

That is not to draw the focus away from the sporting achievement. It is just to emphasise the point that what makes the Paralympics so rich and so distinctive is the combination of amazing sport with incredible stories of human spirit and endeavour.

Even the Olympics struggle to match that.


  • Comment number 1.

    Completely agree, it's going to be a brilliant event.

    Bit like the London marathon in its depth of emotion. The meaning behind the effort that people put in.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think it will be a great success my only worry is its on chann 4 and from what little Ive seen this morning and last night the presenters are terrible. The bbc should have shown this. chann 4 has an terrible record what it comes to presenting sport.

  • Comment number 3.

    @FrankieCrisp: Clare Balding is part of the C4 team and she was widely praised for her knowledge and enthusiasm during the Olympics. That, at least, bodes well for C4s coverage.

  • Comment number 4.

    Unfortunetaley, this will be forgotten was the Beijing Paralympics and all those before it.
    Can anyone honestly remember FIVE names that stood out from that event? Or any before that? Or even the greatest Paralympic moments?

    I'm think viewing figures will be low as well - except for those going to the events, by-and-large, the general public don't have any interest in Paralympics.

  • Comment number 5.

    frankiecrisp - I thought the Channel 4 coverage was good. Just because something is different doesn't make it inferior. Are you basing Channel 4's 'terrible track record' on the World Athletics Championship? Yes, that was shocking - but they did a fantastic job on Test cricket and have covered horse racing for years.

    Their marketing for the Paralympics has been nothing short of exceptional - the Meet The Superhumans trailer is incredible. Would the event have got all that build-up if it was being covered by the same channel that had covered the Olympics, or would have it been, understandably, treated as a bit of an afterthought?

    They have a tough act to follow after the BBC's brilliant coverage of the Olympics, and I'm sure people will moan about ad breaks (that's what happens when you can't force people to give you £150 a year whether you use their service or not), but I hope they do a great job, and certainly won't be pre-judging it, which I think many people have.

  • Comment number 6.

    Can someone please enlighten me as to why disabled athletes are compelled to compete in a seperate ceremony and seperate events? Why can't all of us be in the same Olympic games regardless of disability? The Olympic spirit? Well yeah as long as you aren't disabled. We will have a seperate tournament as an after thought for you lot. It isn't right.

  • Comment number 7.

    I tend to agree with frankiecrisp, although it's not the presenters but the producers who are letting the side down. Most annoying last night was cutting back and forth from the parade of the Paralympic athletes entering the stadium to wittering commentators. This shows a callous disregard for the athletes and family members who would have been watching in their own countries.

  • Comment number 8.

    Dr SIR Ludwig Guttman

  • Comment number 9.

    Bruke - I thought this, but it was succinctly put by a friend of mine:

    There are different sports (eg: hockey is not a Paralympic sport whilst Goalball is not an able bodied sport), with different layouts, and disabled athletes need different access.

    So you can run the two together, but you'd have an Olympics running around a month and it would be a logistical nightmare. They are reusing venues from the Olympics for those sports that aren't common, if there was no separation the host city would have to build extra venues (environment, cost, transport...). So you have a gap to allow changes to venues, and to ease the logistical burden on the host city.

  • Comment number 10.

    I thought the opening ceremony was excellent until the adverts, then i turned over in disgust to watch Real Madrid vs Barcelona. Couldnt believe that a broadcaster, that wanted to deliver the Paralympics to the same high standard that the BBC televised the olympics, was allowed to interrupt the ceremony with adverts for soap powder etc. Wonder if some of the high profile events or celebrations will be cut short for a coffee commercial.

  • Comment number 11.

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

  • Comment number 12.

    @burke - as a disabled athlete, I can tell you that when they have tried to mix disabled and mainstream athletic events in the UK, it hasn't been good. Generally what tends to happen is accidents happen. Also mixing means that some disabilities are not fairly represented because there is not the room in the program.

    It is important to remember how young the movement is in comparison to the modern Olympic movement. It's going to take time to catch up and grow a spectacle which rivals the Olympics but it can be done.

  • Comment number 13.

    Really pleased with the opening ceremony, great effort and looked awesome. Also great to see a packed stadium, and to see how much GB has embraced the Paralympics too - not just an afterthought for them! It was great. Couldn't believe people were really critisicing it, being harsh I feel - the Paralympics isn't as big an event as the Olympics and therefore doesnt have the budget to pull in big-name bands and special effects and whatever (Though having said that apparantly the Paralympics is in terms of competitors and spectators etc the 2nd biggest sporting event in the world - behind the regular Olympics). And besides, the opening ceremony was still a much more lavish affair than the opening ceremony to say, the Euros, or the football/rugby World Cup.

    As for the coverage, I don't mind too much the advert breaks, just as I don't mind adverts on ITV at half-time in the football. It's only when ad breaks creep in when sport is going on, a la ITV showing adverts in the middle of an F1 Grand Prix, that I'm really annoyed. What I'm more frustrated about is the fact that Channel 4 have some excellent digital channels in More4, E4 etc, and yet aren't using them at all - E4 is still clogged with US sitcoms as normal. The BBC at least used BBC2 and 3 heavily during the Olympics to show sport even when there was sport already on BBC1 etc. Compare that to E4/More4's lavishing of reels of coverage over Big Brother when it used to be on, and it leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

    Still, my prediction that Jon Snow would start grilling Olympians over their political stance hasn't occured yet, so I'm happy. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 14.

    There is nothing wrong with the people commenting on the sport its the presenters in the studio. There was some clown with Kenny Dalglish's daughter this morning who knew nothing about sport and was more interested in stupid gossip. if they are going have people in the studio at least have people who are there because they have a background in sport not big brother.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ Frankiecrisp 12:39

    To be fair to that 'clown', and I'm assuming you mean Rick Edwards, he has been a co-presenter of Channel 4's 'That Paralympics Show' on Saturday mornings for the last couple of years and probably knows more about Paralympic sport than Jon Snow (though obviously not about bocchia).

  • Comment number 16.

    Just being honest:

    I could not care less about disability sports. I expect to watch almost none. (I may consider wheelchair rugby, for the lulz)

    If we're being honest, I think we all know deep down that this is the modal opinion...

  • Comment number 17.

    Must agree with FrankieCrisp. Ch4 coverage last night was very poor. Jon Snow is a great broadcaster, but big events and sport is not his forte. I felt sorry for Joanthan Edwards and Ade Ayepitan in the studio with him. As for the commentary in the stadium, when the mic problem was solved it was inept at best. Some nations where disrespected when they spoke across their entry and went without notice, while commentators chatted about the atmosphere in the village.

    I could go on at length, but why use the currently most outstanding sports broadcaster in Clare Balding as a 'mere' interviewer. She should have been hosting the whole show!

    Sadly, unless your lucky enough like me to have tickets to events to see world class sport, performed by extraordinary human beings, in fantastic venues, your experience may be coloured by how bad Ch4 coverage was.

    Btw Ch4 coverage of cricket not a good comparison. That was with experienced broadcasters with background in cricket, eg Mark Nicholas and Simon Hughes.

  • Comment number 18.

    At least they won't have to bring in the Army to sit in the empty 'VIP' seats.

  • Comment number 19.

    Brucke and JK1975:
    The main reason is that the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committe are two separate organisations. Although it has drawn a lot of its style from the other, the IPC is not 'part' of the IOC and so should hardly be expected to run its events at the same time, just because Usain Bolt and co are in town.
    But the logistical argument also holds true: the Olympics is full to bursting with 10,500 athletes. Can you imagine putting another 4,500 Paralympians in at the same time?

  • Comment number 20.

    The Thing that gets me is us ( yes I'm disabled with no chip on my shoulder) disabled people are treated as second class citzazans in all aspects regardless of the Olympics - I mean lets all go wooow the Able alethalites got 69 medals with mo getting 2 and Jessica Ennis ( the face on 2012) getting a paultry 1 medal even not competing in hurdles to try to get another medal, but the Para-Lympics will get over 100 (heres hoping) and no fuss will be made of para-letes getting 1,2,3 medals probley not even getting a obe or mbe when the able body winners will i bet.

    This is the problem with sport and life as a whole able body people look down at less able this has happened since along time just not in sport.

    The Opening cermony was great bu it would have been nice to see some recent pop/rock groups perform at some stage and where was paul mccartney this time wer'nt the para-lympics good enough for another chorus of "hay jude" I wonder.

    But as I tell everyone that I no this is the REAL OLYMPICS and the 1's that were staged a couple of weeks back were just the warm up session as this is where the real stars will shine and perform.

  • Comment number 21.

    The Olympics aimed to 'Inspire a Generation' which is great but I very much hope that the Paralympics will 'Inspire a Nation'. I'm already inspired by these athletes & it's barely started.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ 20.
    At 14:17 30th Aug 2012, kenl wrote:

    I think what you said does a great disservice to Beverly Knight! She is terrific.

    It’s all about money, the Olympics attracts major sponsors paying billions, the Paralympics does not. When it does, then it will start getting the credit it deserves.

    Secondly it is not represented by as many countries so of course it isn’t going to get the coverage, the same reason the Champions league is seen as the pinnacle and the UEFA cup is not, people want to see the best in the world.

    Lastly with the medal count comment, we're expected to really well, our technology and care for the disabled is one of the best in the world!

  • Comment number 23.

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

  • Comment number 24.

    @20 - Olympic swimming - 36 or so golds up for grabs, Paralympic swimming golds – 140 or so. Enough said.

  • Comment number 25.

    I believe, that over time the Paralympics have the same or greater potential to be commercially successful than the Olympics. The reason why I believe this is, because the story of the average paralympian is just so much better. They are stories of great endurance against all odds and they are extremely easy to market nationally and internationally. The paralympian medal winners I have met have in many cases been much more inspirational than the olympic medal winners.

    During the next 10 days some worldwide celebrities will be created, who can themselves become millionaires. We will have paralympic athletes on billboards and in TV shows. Think only of Tatyana McFadden in todays Telegraph. Rescued as a child near death from a Russian orphanage she is now a world class athlete.

    Just a shame the Americans have refused to televise the Paralympics. But apparently that was one of the reasons why London, not New York, won the bid. Its their loss and our win.

  • Comment number 26.

    @ 6: Brucke

    Because in comparison to The Olympics, the level of athletes is obviously not as great...and because they are not seen outside The Paralympics, people can't identify themselves to them.

  • Comment number 27.

    So apparently my first post broke the house rules; something which I would have assumed required swearing, direct insults or inflammatory rhetoric. In my humble opinion I strayed nowhere near; however, one can never be sure!

    Take 2: if ‘differently-abled’ (as PC as it gets methinks) athletes have to be streamed into classes of ‘differently-abled-ability’ (If anyone from Channel 4 is reading, you are more than welcome to that sound bite) by the IPC; with the implication being: slightly more/less able-bodied is an advantage/disadvantage; who still believes that ALL athletes are the same and should compete on the same level playing field?

  • Comment number 28.

    @ 20

    For me, the absence of Macca and Hey Jude (i.e. hackneyed old turn from the 1960s) was a big positive of the Para opening ceremony.

  • Comment number 29.

    @kenl - 1. Jess Ennis got 1 medal for doing SEVEN events. Let's see you try get to elite level in that number.
    2. Every one of the 69 olympic medals is a fantastic achievement. Just as every one of the paralympic medals will be.
    3. Channel 4 describe paralympians as Superhumans and the marketing has really resonated. We are in awe! The crowd are cheering just as loudly for the paralympians. And remember that tickets are sold out. Can you honestly say that those people think the athletes are second class??
    4. You say that no-one will make a fuss of the medallists, well try telling that to Ellie Simmonds, plastered as a huge advert across the whole side of a building in London. People across Britain are supporting amazing athletes like Libby Clegg, Sarah Storey and the rest of them, not pitying them. Frankly, we're gobsmacked at what they can do. Not really interested in the disability so much.
    These games are the chance for the world to really see disabled people for who they are or can be. Look about you. The mood is changing. Rather than griping, support and encourage that.
    You say you have no chip on your shoulder? More like the whole potato!

  • Comment number 30.

    At 15:09 30th Aug 2012, Coerrin wrote:

    I don't see any reason a disabled person can't compete in the Olympics as long as they are good enough, the issue I have is that being disabled could become an advantage in some instances.

    For example, the running blades, the technology and materials used are always improving and maybe could be improved to a point that they provide such spring and propulsion that a man could in theory run faster than any able bodied man.

    But with a one armed table tennis player or an archer that uses their feet, they gain no physical advantage from their disability so as long as they’re good enough they can compete with the best in the world. The issue is they aren’t good enough.

  • Comment number 31.

    @ 30: CurrentlyFryingOnions

    I agree - technology could mean we see Oscar Pistorious running a sub-10.00 100m

  • Comment number 32.


    I could not agree more! I for one really looked forward to Oscar Pistorius competing in the Olympics and was gutted when he finished last in his second heat. But then he did qualify and did make it through an earlier heat; which is still a good achievement.

    What I am opposed to is the innate belief that all athletes should be regarded and treated as equally able; something which an earlier poster was supporting through their criticism of the IOC and IPC. I just had to say in a roundabout way to ensure my post wasn’t censored.

  • Comment number 33.


    That was the whole problem that Oscar Pistorius had to get over: to prove that his blades DON'T give him any 'spring' compared to a normal pair of legs. Without that proof he was not allowed to run against 'regular' athletes.

    And you can get such 'springs' that would allow for fast times, except they're more used for jumping. You might have seen them last night worn by 2 guys in kilts when Clare Balding was interviewing the Irish team as they waited to go in, and also by the 'pogoing punks' during the Olympic opening ceremony. Search Google for "jumping stilts"

  • Comment number 34.

    It was a refreshing change to have news broadcasters commentating on the opening ceremony ... we had some real background information to the competing nations.

    But generally, I am disappointed with C4 coverage. All those ads ...

  • Comment number 35.

    To be fair to C4, they only had 1 ad break that WASN'T during the athletes' parade, which isn't the most riveting two hours of telly.

    Also, you can bet that most of the world saw the Olympic opening ceremony with ad breaks interspersed throughout.

  • Comment number 36.

    At 15:59 30th Aug 2012, Ruaraidh Gillies wrote:

    This is true, I did see the documentry on that, but how to you guage what is fair and what isn't? If someone on blades run a new world record would it be because of the blades or because he is the best the world has seen? How do you truly measure the benefits to point you have parity with real legs?

    Usain Bolt had proved that some can just be a whole lot better then the rest.

  • Comment number 37.

    Suppose TeamGB had had a catastrophically poor Olympics- say as bad as Atlanta in medals terms. My guess is that we'd still be working through the fall out, with inquests and witch hunts, generous lashings of national self-contempt on the side and probably a growing demand that the Government set up a public inquiry on the Leveson/Iraq war model to identify and punish the guilty.

    If the Paralympic GB team doesn't win a single medal I suspect the general publc reaction will be one of very mild disappointment- but, hey, the Premiership is back in town, the Ryder Cup's just round the corner and is Cook going to try to bring Pietersen back into the England fold.

    I'm not saying that the first reaction is healthier than the second- indeed I think there's a lot to be said for treating mass spectator sport as the relatively unimportant if pleasureable experience which, in the great scheme of things, it actually is. If you judge a sporting event's "validity" by how much it matters to the spectators, though, the contrast is a relevant one.

  • Comment number 38.

    Watched the cycling this afternoon, All these riders are incredible and a silver medal for team GB. plus the presenters this afternoon have been first class.

  • Comment number 39.

    I seriously dont know why the BBC do not have a dedicated digital BBC Sport TV channel.

    The could use this for Wimbledon, The Open, F1, football, rugby, athletics.

    Very annoying how the BBC didnt bid more for the Paralympics. They are effectively saying that its not worth it to them.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ 31 Silver Surfer

    For Oscar Pistorious to run sub 10 seconds would require a whole different technology than 'blades'. It apparently takes him a full 80m to get to full speed, putting him at a disadvantage compared with single leg amputees, and which is why he prefers the 400m.

  • Comment number 41.

    @ 40.
    At 16:54 30th Aug 2012, Jackethangs wrote:

    That was my point though, at the moment he is slow on the first 80m, but who knows what the future will bring, the paralympians are limited by technology while the able bodied person is limited by physical human limits.

  • Comment number 42.

    39. At 16:49 30th Aug 2012, Impossible is nothing. wrote:

    BBC *did* bid more, but the rights-holders expressly chose to go with C4 rather than BBC. Don't know the exact reasons why, but it might have something to do with giving the Paralympics their own identity rather than just being an extension of the Olympics.

  • Comment number 43.

    At 16:31 30th Aug 2012, Currently Frying Onions wrote

    You *can* measure how much 'rebound' a blade has when it's flexed, and I suspect it had to be shown that there is none (or negligible). Carbon fibre is incredibly stiff - he's not going "boing, boing" with every step! :-)

  • Comment number 44.

    @ 43.
    At 17:22 30th Aug 2012, Ruaraidh Gillies wrote:

    If you listen closely you could hear the 'boings' ;)

  • Comment number 45.

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

  • Comment number 46.

    BBC could have won the rights - but they wouldn't have given the level of coverage that C4 are now. If BBC want to be trusted with our Games in Rio, then they'd better do it right, instead of the piecemeal half-hearted coverage of previous Paralympics TV coverage.

  • Comment number 47.

    Personally I have enjoyed watching the Paralympics today, actually being able to watch the different catergories of Paralympians live and not edited highlights. Adverts? Shame, but BBC really had to put all their eggs in the Olympic basket, with their funding cuts, C4 are the next best thing IMHO and are giving it more than I thought they would. A decent blog David.

  • Comment number 48.

    Coerrin - Comment 27, refer to comment 45:


    At 21:20 30th Aug 2012, You wrote:

    Your comment has been referred for further consideration.


    This board is not about a frank exchange of views.

  • Comment number 49.

    The BBC did a great job for the Olympics. I am disgusted that we have to put up with the break in continuity of watching and the banal advertising by going to ITV. I believe it is discriminating against the athletes AND the public. Both will loose a great deal. Very disappointing.

  • Comment number 50.

    Here is an idea how to get more attention. "Let's increase the awareness of the great achievements of the Paralympic athletes by organizing and promoting the Paralympic Games before the Olympics."

  • Comment number 51.

    It's started well and the action is as interesting as that of the Olympics. It's all the more disappointing the BBC despite talking the Paralympics up is not giving them the same treatment as the Olympics. I follow the events from central Africa and the BBC website and the blow by blow 'live' commentary on the Olympics was brilliant. For tha paras it's part of sportsday and just now flooded out by the the frankly booring business of football transfers as well as mixed with every other sport available including the US open. Why no separate live feed? Why no medals table on the home page rather than three levels down on the sports page. If the Beeb believes this is event is as important as the Olympics it's not showing it and it clearly doesn't have half as many people covering it. Same goes for the TV coverage. Opening not available on BBC World or any of the other three sat channels available worldwide. Massively less coverage of events too. Pity really.

  • Comment number 52.

    Sitting here and watching Team GB just win another gold medal in the velodrome tells me this is just as good as the Olympics.


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