I’ve never been prouder to be British than when watching the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Coming off the back of such a successful Olympics, the Paralympics has had a leg up that has propelled it from side- line to centre stage in truly spectacular style.
And it could only really have happened in Britain – the birthplace of the Paralympic movement and a nation where both disability sport and the needs of people with disabilities have had systematic, sustained and robust support for decades.
It’s been stunning for many reasons – first and foremost in the fundamental way it’s changed so many people’s view of disability from being something that raises uncomfort- able feelings, to a point where they can look past the disability to the person and celebrate their achievements as fellow human beings. The world will never be the same again.
The fact Britain did so well in the Paralympics is due in part to longstanding policies which enable people with disabilities to go about their lives and get involved in sport facing less obsta- cles than those living in many other nations.
These include anti-discrimination laws and rights of access which are delivered both at national and local government level via a whole raft of statutory services to ensure infrastructure is accessible and the playing field is as level as it can be.
But most importantly, sports governing bod- ies have committed to developing not only access for people with disabilities, but also adapted versions of sports such as sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball so peo- ple with disabilities can choose a sport which accommodates their physical strengths and attributes and is enjoyable and challenging. And it isn’t all new news – many of the athletes who’ve become household names in 2012 have been competing and winning med- als on the world stage for decades. It’s taken high profile TV coverage and London’s sell-out crowds to bring them to everyone’s attention.
Channel 4 has also done an amazing job of branding the Paralympics with its ‘Superheroes’ adverts for Paralympics GB – the first time the creative might of the UK’s world class advertis- ing industry has been thrown behind disability to raise profiles and change perceptions.
We laughed, cried and screamed our way through the Paralympics as competitors pulled out phenomenal performances of sheer ath- letic brilliance and now we have a new set of household names to inspire a generation of disabled and able bodied athletes.
And the final, sweetest part of all is the way the Paralympics has encouraged more ordinary people to take up exercise than even the ‘dull Olympics’ (as it’s affectionately known by Paralympic commentators), on the grounds that ‘if they can do it, then so can I”.
Liz Terry, Editor Twitter @elizterry Read leisure management online: www.leisuremanagement.co.uk/digital