Why the Paralympics Already Wins Gold
The Paralympics opening ceremony takes place tonight, but before the Games even gets under way I think it
already takes gold. After the success of the London Olympics there’s unprecedented excitement about the Paralympics. The key word here is ‘unprecedented’ and this is why it is already a winner.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be shown in more countries than any previous Paralympic Games. Organisers have agreed a series of TV deals which mean over 100 countries will now screen the games. Countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Latin America will show footage.
While we have a long way to go in the UK before disabled people enjoy equality, it is worth remembering that we are streets ahead of many other countries. The simple fact that more countries than ever are showing the 2012 Paralympics can only be a good thing. The raising of awareness is often the catalyst for change and what could be better than the most global platform to date to do this? This alone scores my first gold medal.
The success of the London Olympics has boosted interest in the Paralympics around the world. Not only is it being shown in countries who have previously taken little or no interest, but big players in sporting nations have committed to hours of airtime. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is showing 100 hours, and closer to home Channel 4 is broadcasting 150 hours of live coverage with BBC 5 Live covering the radio waves.
What I love more than this, is that the new profile of the Paralympics (and remember it hasn’t even started yet!) is that it has the power to shame! Broadcasters in the United States have been accused over many years of ignoring the Paralympic Games, but this year they have been forced to rethink their scheduling. NBC was planning just four 60-minute highlight programmes followed by one 90-minute roundup after the Games were over. Public pressure, including pressure from military veterans sparked the rethink; people power performance gets the gold here.
Of course people power is compelling, but let’s not get too wrapped up in the bubble of Paralympic fever. Let’s keep our feet, or blades, or whatever alternatives to feet we have (suddenly anything goes and I love it!) on the ground. The outright winner gold comes in the commercial backing that the Paralympics is experiencing.
Companies like Visa and General Electric in the US are running slick TV commercials featuring disabled athletes endorsing a range of products. For me, this is what I call progress. It is great that all the main sponsors of the London 2012 Olympic Games, such as Adidas, Visa and McDonald’s, are automatically involved with the Paralympics but for companies to use disabled people to endorse a product takes this a step, no actually a leap, further.
NBC has now announced it will run a daily highlights package via the US Paralympics YouTube channel. Some way to go before America get it, but 2012 is the year they can learn from a small island!
Money talks, it always will, and I am delighted that disability has a commercial value. While disability is riding the crest of a huge public profile coupled with an increasingly enthusiastic audience we cannot be ignored. Right now it is not about it being a nice thing to do. We can’t be ignored because we mean business, and what is better still, is that business knows it! Where there is an audience, there are business opportunities.
The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is the first, and indeed only, Paralympic exclusive sponsor the Games has ever seen. Evidently, the retailer believes the Paralympics are not secondary to the main event, but they are important in their own right and so there is a commercial benefit by association. This gets my fourth gold medal.
My next gold medal is yet again fuelled by people power. Driven by public demand the Royal Mail has said it will now issue the individual stamps of our Paralympic team GB gold medallists and get the gold paint out again to paint the local post boxes of winners.
Ironically, the reason behind the first decision not to offer the same congratulatory gesture to Paralympic gold medallists as was offered to Olympic gold medallists was that there are too many gold Paralympians! Basically, disabled people are too successful! Now isn’t that a nice change?
Due to our expected success the stamps will take a little longer to produce, but well done to the Royal Mail for embracing the Paralympic spirit and achieving the seemingly impossible!
All of this is brilliant but there is the danger that everything reverts back to how it was before when it is all over. My next gold medal is given on the basis of legacy. Heathrow Airport has had the challenge over the last few days of welcoming over 2,100 Paralympic athletes. Over 400 wheelchair users came through the airport in a single day. If you are a disabled person and have used airports you will know that the service varies. I was glad to hear Heathrow has invested in a package of permanent accessibility improvements which include staff training and specialist lifts and facilities. It now boasts 12 ambilifts – more than any other airport in Europe. It has increased the number of accessible toilets and the amount of buggies to transport disabled passengers.
These changes will continue to benefit all passengers with reduced mobility long after the last medal has been awarded.
It is not just Heathrow Airport that has invested in pre-Paralympic accessibility services. I have been delivering disability awareness training to organisers of Olympic and Paralympic events and to those involved with the medal ceremonies over the last few months. These opportunities would not exist without the Olympic and Paralympics being in London this year.
My final gold medal is awarded as the 2012 Paralympics is on course to be the first ever sell out with the most extensive media coverage. As a result it has the biggest opportunity to have the most positive impact. As the Paralympic swimmer Liz Johnson says, “We are seen as elite athletes with a disability, rather than disabled athletes who do sports”.