Jeremy Hunt hopeful London 2012 Paralympics can change attitudes


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The Independent Online

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, hopes the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which open tomorrow, can be the catalyst for changing perceptions of disability.

The Paralympic torch relay, featuring 580 torch bearers as 116 teams of five, was set to begin at the birthplace of the Paralympic movement at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire today.

The 90-mile journey is set to take place overnight, finishing at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, where the opening ceremony of the XIV Paralympic Games takes place tomorrow.

The ceremony will signal the start of 11 days of competition by almost 4,300 athletes from 166 countries, across 20 sports for 503 gold medals and Hunt is optimistic Britain will embrace the Games.

"For many Brits this will be the first time they have seen the Paralympic Games at all," he said.

"It will be a very big moment to really change perceptions and that will be something to be proud of.

"Although it's the third time we hosted the Olympics, it is technically the first time we've hosted the Paralympics. The Paralympic movement started in 1948 in Stoke Mandeville, the first actual Paralympics was in 1960.

"This will be a very historic moment for the country that founded the Paralympic movement, to actually be hosting its first Paralympics."

Accessibility and inclusion, in transport terms, have been tackled in relation to the Games and the hope is the Paralympics can alter attitudes.

It is to start at schools, with all those participating in the School Games, of which Prince Harry is president, required to offer Paralympic sports.

Hunt added: "A lot of the sports that are being offered can be played with disabled and non-disabled children alongside each other, sports like boccia, goalball, sitting volleyball.

"That means there's a big chance to change attitudes amongst non-disabled children."

While Channel 4 plan to broadcast 500 hours of live sport, American broadcaster NBC have attracted criticism for their paltry plans, with the International Paralympic Committee's own YouTube channel filling the void.

Hunt hopes Britain can lead by example in Paralympic sport and that other nations will follow.

He said: "There is still far too much inequality and that extends to sport and the Olympics. The Paralympics can be a great power for changing that.

"In the Olympics we've seen a huge profile given to women. That's been a change that's been welcome.

"The best way that we get attitudes to change around the world is by hosting a fantastic Paralympics.

"People who don't give it the coverage it deserves will realise they made a mistake."

The Games are on course to be the first Paralympics to sell out.

More than 2.4 million tickets have been sold, with half a million to overseas visitors.

The opening ceremony is sold out, with 800 tickets given to troops and police, while around 10,000 tickets will be sold each day during the Games.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton said: "We've tried to get as many people in as we reasonably can.

"This is a wonderful illustration of how the British public have said we love the Paralympics and want to be part of it."