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