Reflecting on Rio – Paralympics 2016

Just over two weeks before the Rio Paralympics began I wrote in The Times that “the Rio 2016 organising committee in Brazil has given a flagrant two-finger salute to the Paralympics. The Games will, sadly, be remembered for abject failure — save for the sensational performances of the athletes, no doubt, who will be forced to compete in adversity with venues closed and service levels slashed.” Was my prediction correct?

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Disappointment as Premier League fails to keep promise.

More than a third of Premier League clubs, including two of the richest teams in the world, will not have adequate facilities for disabled fans by August 2017. Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth are all set to miss an agreed deadline to bring their stadiums up to the minimum standards for disabled access, according to the disabled fans organisation Level Playing Field (LPF).

Last year, all Premier League clubs pledged to improve their stadium facilities for disabled supporters and increase the numbers of wheelchair user spaces by August 2017, as set out in the Accessible Stadia Guidance (ASG). However, in meetings with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which took the league to task last year over inadequate accessibility provisions, the Premier League has now acknowledged that many will miss the deadline.

Commenting on the lack of progress, Chris Holmes, EHRC Disability Commissioner said:

“All clubs agreed to make the minimum recommended improvements for disabled fans over two years. We are now at half-time, and for many teams, the performance is simply unacceptable.”

Rio Paralympics: The Show that wouldn’t be Stopped.

Despite the worst efforts of the disinterested, disinclined and darn right duplicitous the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games is underway, not with a whimper, but as a result of the resilience of the IPC and the attitude of the athletes, with a roar.

The budget has been bludgeoned, in fact, only a few weeks ago there was a real possibility of not a reduced Paralympic Games but no Paralympic Games at all.  And yet the spirit has risen in Rio, epitomised at the flame lighting ceremony at the marvellous Museum of Tomorrow and the emotional opening ceremony at the legendary Maracana Stadium.

The venues are good, as is the athlete’s village and there is a strong media presence; the games will be covered by television, radio and online outlets in a record 154 countries. Notably, the list of broadcasters includes US network NBC for the first time at a summer Paralympic Games. There has been extensive coverage in the UK media of the classification system used in Paralympic sport, and this increased scrutiny and attention is to be welcomed as part of the increased profile of Paralympic sport.

As I toured various venues on the eve of the games: the pool, the velodrome, basketball arena and many more, they felt great. Work to be done, certainly, air of anticipation though, absolutely. On the same day in the House of Lords the excellent report of the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability was debated. A reminder of the work still to be done in the UK, but an opportunity also to reflect on the role the Paralympics have played in changing attitudes towards disability in the UK.

The legacy of London 2012 is often discussed and there are many ways to measure it but the deal we did with Channel 4 resulted in unprecedented coverage, an incredible marketing campaign, a new programme that outlasted the games (“The Last Leg”), and this year’s YODA (Year of Disability) all these must be recognised as  hugely significant in changing attitudes. 

Back to Rio2016, after the horrors of disorganisation and almost disintegration, what should we expect?  First and always foremost, sensational sport.  At the track, pool, velodrome but also sports perhaps not seen before, boccia, wheelchair rugby, all absolutely worth finding out about and tuning in to.

And for Great Britain, a real challenge with Team GB finishing a phenomenal 2nd at the Olympics.  But the team are up to that, and after day one have already matched it. Multiple medallists, stars of London 2012, names now familiar on our lips Storey and Simmonds, Whitehead and Weir, will be leading the golden charge and around them a team with breadth and depth across the sports. 

On day one Sarah Storey became the most successful British Paralympian ever and GB celebrated 5 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze. On Friday we unleash the Weirwolf, super Saturday, Hannah Cockroft and so we go on, 11 days of sensational, attitude altering Great British sport.

So, to the athletes of Rio 2016, the passionate venue level managers, magnificent volunteers, let’s unleash the Paralympians of 2016 to inspire to excel to defy, to delight and to all, for the love of sport, the will of world class performance, let the games continue to Paralympify the planet.

First published in Politics Home



House of Lords Select Committee Report on Social Mobility Published

I grew up in working class Kidderminster and am now in the House of Lords.  I haven’t the first idea how this came to pass but I guess social mobility must be in it somewhere.

It was that and more which made me delighted to be part of the select committee on social mobility, our report is published today.

Our report focusses not on those on the A-level University pathway, nor on the NEETs, both groups pretty well served, from policy, think tanks and successive Governments at least.  No, our focus was the large group in between, those who we found suffering incoherent options, chaos and confusion.  Those who we concluded were experiencing a terrible muddle in the middle.

We wanted to be sure that our recommendations wouldn’t add to the policy fragmentation which has hindered progress and clarity. Instead we recommend a cohesive system: a core curriculum for those aged 14 –19, with tailor made academic or vocational elements, a gold standard in careers advice, and careers education in schools that empowers young people to make good decisions about their future.

This system needs to be underpinned by reliable and publicly available data. It needs to be properly funded, owned by a single Minister, and monitored for success. Only by taking these actions can we make sure that all of our young people have the best chances of success.

We also need to see an end to the inequality between university and other routes, inequality in terms of funding, inequality in terms of thinking.

What is perhaps most pressing though for policy makers and frankly, for us all is the revolution currently underway which will leave our labour market changed beyond recognition, most pertinent here, so many of those jobs which were the enablers of social mobility from the sixties onwards, those jobs, swept away on a tide of turmoil and tech.

In the UK 35% of jobs are in danger of automation, by the same token, over one million new jobs required in the digital sector by the end of this decade alone.  What these new opportunities will require is far more focus on skills rather than subjects and resilience rather than rote learn.

What we need is focus, on the individual. What services and support, can be wrapped around them, not least careers education and guidance, character education, communication skills, team working, self-management and self belief to name just some.

As communities, as a country, we can no longer continue to tolerate this lack of focus on such a large group of our young people, this waste, this wanting.  We need to smash the silos; between Government departments, between different routes, silos of thinking, silos that stifle, silos that stunt.  The silos must be smashed, individual’s purpose must be pushed to the fore and then, then we can unleash the talent.

Chris voted best speaker at major HR Conference

The ‘Future Talent’ conference, organised by Changeboard, was designed to inspire and empower senior HR and talent professionals. Over 700 people came to listen to an incredible speaker line up including Ruby Wax and Alain de Botton. Chris was delighted to be invited to take part and the title of Chris’s talk was “Smash the silos: Real inclusion counts”.  He spoke powerfully about the way in which flat structures can allow all the people in an organisation to make their voices heard. Drawing on his experiences as part of the Olympic bid team and then as Director at London 2012 Paralympics leading 70,000 Gamesmakers he underlined that “smashing silos, promoting the purpose and unleashing your people” really is a recipe for success. Chris has a passion for sharing his experiences in leadership, performance management, setting a vision for a team that leads to meaningful improvement and the demonstrable benefits of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “Not because it’s a nice thing to do but because it improves your organisation.” In advance of the conference, Chris shared further lessons, about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone to do things a little differently. Chris was stunned to be voted best speaker and described it as an “absolute honour”.

Unlocking Opportunities, new resource for teachers with disabled students

Unlocking Opportunities is a practical online training course to help schools to meet their Equality Act duties and remove barriers to education for disabled learners. It is for everyone who works in schools and will help staff to understand what equality law says and what it means in practice for teaching and learning. Schools can register for FREE and start using the online resource to train staff in the subject of reasonable adjustments.  Watch Chris introduce the resource in a youtube clip or head straight to the website.

Chris to chair YODA (Channel 4s Year of Disability Adviser Group)

Channel 4 has announced 2016 as the network’s Year of Disability. Exactly a year ago Channel 4 launched their 360 Degrees Diversity Charter which laid out a number of diversity targets. This year, the Year of Disability, Channel 4 has introduced new targets specifically on disability and Chris is delighted to chair the group of experts who will be known collectively as YODA (Year of Disability Advisers).  Other initiatives are to double the number of disabled people in C4’s most popular shows, invest £300,000 behind the scenes, assist the career progress of 20 disabled people among its suppliers and commit half of its apprenticeships and 30% of work experience placements to disabled youngsters.

There are more than 12 million disabled people living in Britain today, yet just 2.5% of people on screen are disabled. Only half of disabled people in Britain are in work compared to four fifths of non-disabled people. There are significant barriers to opportunity and Channel 4’s moves to increase participation by disabled people both on screen and behind the cameras is to be welcomed.

 Chris said:

“Three years ago, London 2012 was seen as a turning point for the visibility and inclusion of disabled people in our society, driving a clear social, economic, physical and cultural legacy for disabled people. Since then, Britain has made progress on many fronts but there is increasing evidence that disabled people are being locked out or left behind.

“Far from enjoying increased visibility and being able to participate more fully in every aspect of life there is a risk that disabled people will become more invisible as both consumers and participants, with organisations losing out on their valuable experiences and custom.”

“I welcome the moves by Channel 4 to make real progress on this issue and urge other businesses and service providers to look again and what they are doing and what they are able to do to increase representation and participation by disabled people in order to unlock the talent that is out there and to avoid Britain becoming a more segregated society.”

“This isn’t about political correctness, or being “nice”, it’s about this, creative, competitive edge.”

Channel 4 enlists YODA for its Year of Disability, Disability News Service


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