Where are the Superhumans? Despite the glorious success of the London 2012 Paralympics, its organiser Chris Holmes is still fighting for equality

Chris Holmes says that he and  Stephen Hawking talked about the world beyond being able-bodied

One ended with fireworks and The Who singing “My Generation”. The other ended with fireworks and Coldplay singing “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”. However, while Sebastian Coe was forever asked about the legacy of the London Olympics, Chris Holmes, the man who oversaw the Paralympics, rarely was.

With fewer than 100 days to go before the Winter Paralympics open in Sochi, one wonders whatever happened to the Superhumans? Hannah Cockroft, who won two gold medals, was in the Sports Personality of the Year spotlight on Sunday but even she has seen her sponsors drop away.

Volleyball in its Paralympic  (and Olympic) form, has had its funding cut – the latter by 87 per cent, the other to zero. Aaron McKibben, who plays table tennis in a wheelchair, is now supported by a south London estate agents, James Pendleton, with £400 a month.

When the New Year Honours came out, one gold medallist, Jonnie Peacock, wondered what David Weir, the owner of six Paralympic golds, would have to do to earn a knighthood. The British Paralympians won double the medals and received half the honours.

In those same honours Holmes received a peerage and, like Coe, he now sits on the Conservative benches of the House of Lords. At the age of 14, he woke up suddenly and frighteningly unable to see, the victim of a condition in which the retina folds and tears as it grows.

He refused to compromise and asked to be taken to the City of Birmingham Swimming Club, where he demanded the same treatment as those swimmers who could see. Seven years later, his skin dried and his hair blond from the chlorine, he won six swimming gold medals at Barcelona and added another three at Atlanta and Sydney.

As a non-executive director of UK Sport he argued for the principle that every gold medal prospect, whether Olympian or Paralympian, should be given the same levels of funding. “It caused,” he said, “a hell of a discussion.”

He won a place at Cambridge and then studied commercial law with BPP University and the day after taking up his seat in the Lords he is in Manchester to open the university’s refurbished offices. There is a glass of champagne in his hand, so it might be the moment to ask if the London Paralympics were nothing more than a swell party.

“Even if it were just a sensational party, it would have been well worth doing and a price worth paying,” he said. “But there was so much more. We knew that, if we got it right, we could change people’s perceptions of disabled people. But the research we conducted afterwards showed it was tentative and fragile and would require all of us to keep pushing.

“You ask where are the Superhumans? The legacy of the Paralympics needs to expand out of sport and into all the other areas. What the Paralympics demonstrated was not just the extraordinary achievements of disabled athletes but of disabled people.

“One of the things I had to do was pick up the phone to Stephen Hawking to ask him to be part of the Opening Ceremony. There, he talked about the possibilities beyond our universe. There is a world beyond being able-bodied.

“It should be a given that able and disabled young people have precisely the same opportunities to access sport and society.

“The stat that really kills me is that, if you had the same employment opportunities for disabled and able-bodied people, there would be another two million disabled people in employment – a waste of talent, year in, year out.”

The Winter Olympics in Sochi has been bedevilled by many things, from the Russian government’s treatment of homosexuals to the possibility there may not actually be much snow. The Paralympics is set to attract the largest entry for any winter Games but it is likely to be watched by very sparse crowds.

There is always the danger that the Paralympics will slip back into the shadows. When Holmes won his first Paralympic swimming gold medal in 1992 – which, as a blind man, he remembers as something very big and very heavy being hung around his neck – he was interviewed by BBC Radio, who asked what it was like competing in a wheelchair. “I told him that, since I couldn’t see too well – and was a swimmer – it was bloody dangerous.

“Bear in mind that when Moscow won the race to stage the Olympic Games in 1980, they wrote to the International Co-ordinating Committee, who were the forerunners of the International Paralympic Committee, and said they were unable to host the Paralympic Games because there were no disabled people in Russia. After Seoul in 1988 there was a one-hour programme on the BBC broadcast two weeks after we came back.

“In 2012 it covered all the front pages on day one and day two. Day three we were on every front page bar one, and the one that didn’t had a story about Cheryl Cole’s knickers. Sometimes, you can’t compete.

“When I took on the job, I knew we could stage a great Games and I believed we could sell all the tickets,” he said. “Then I was presented with the first research that came back that showed zero per cent of the public were ‘strongly likely’ to buy a Paralympic ticket. I had 2.75 million to sell. I have never worked so hard in my life. When I trained as a commercial lawyer with BPP you got used to long hours. As a swimmer, you were used to the alarm going off at 4.40am. This was both.”

It was the same refusal to compromise that led Holmes’ team to sell out the Games. Sainsbury’s and BP, who put pictures of the Paralympians on the sides of their tankers, were not asked “plaintively” for support and nor were they told it would be second-best to being an Olympic sponsor.

“We told them it would fit in with their business plans and we were right. I wasn’t surprised it worked but I was delighted by that sense of sunshine, of passion and of love. The Olympic Park was just one great golden smile that rippled out across London. Conversations actually broke out on Tube trains.”

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us