Matt Butler: Paralympians treated as elite athletes? I’ll drink to that

View from the Sofa: IPC World Championships More4

If you played the not-so-old favourite Paralympics drinking game while watching the IPC World Championships you would have been hammered by teatime Saturday.

You know the one, where you drink one finger for every mention of “glory”, two for “London 2012” and the whole glass for any image of Oscar Pistorious.

And with good reason. Because the London 2012 Paralympics for many was the point where the events were seen as what they are – elite sportspeople doing their darnedest to win medals – rather than a festival of pointing-and-staring. This may sound insensitive, but Danny Crates, the former 800m sprinter, said as much in the opening gambits with the hosts Jonathan Edwards and Arthur Williams.

Crates (right), the summariser for the track commentary, competed in the early 2000s and he said world championship meetings in his heyday took place in front of minimal crowds – and those who did turn up were merely curious.

Not so in Lyon. Sure, the worlds were not held in a stadium as stunning as that in Stratford – or a stadium full stop, for that matter – but the picturesque surroundings of the athletics track looked well patronised by enthusiastic fans. The place was not full, but then again there were similar swathes of empty seats when Mo Farah broke the European 1500m record at Friday’s Diamond League meeting in Monaco.

Edwards and Williams looked like they had pitched up at a barbecue, wearing button-up shirts of the sort David Cameron would pack for a summer in Cornwall, perched on chairs next to two brightly coloured picnic tables under a gazebo which passed for the studio. Their chat began with the glory of London 2012 – that’s where the drinkers would have felt the most effects – and Williams appeared to be looking back in wistful nostalgia a little too much.

When introducing some of the British contingent, he spoke of the road to London 2012, prompting a stern chastising from Edwards. “That’s finished now, Arthur,” he said in the tone of a friendly teacher. “It’s all about the road to Rio, we can’t say London any more.”

The hallmarks which had made Channel 4’s coverage of London 2012 such a triumph were still in place, even down to the supermarket sponsorship and Public Enemy opening theme tune. The informative commentary of John Rawling and Rob Walker was also still there, as was the Tron-like Lexi information section, where the codes for athletes were deciphered.

One minor quibble. The first day’s coverage was almost five hours long, which is a stretch for any athletics event, let alone one you are accompanying with alcoholic fun. Of course as the week goes on things will hot up when the finals approach, but it was a slow start. In the first hour, apart from a brief clip of the British javelin thrower Nathan Stephens coming fifth, all we had to watch was heat after heat of T53 200m racers.

And you could tell Rawling and Walker occasionally had trouble filling the time with meaningful chat. As soon as the third heat of the 200m ended  the latter veered close to Alan Partridge territory when he talked of the spectators looking for “a bit of shade under those magnificent trees, they look a very nice position to be stood”.

He was right of course: it looked a great place to watch a sporting event. Just as long as they hadn’t settled in with a few drinks. Five hours is a long time to keep beer cool.

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