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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little