Leading article: These Games are about ability and inspiration

The London Paralympics promise to rekindle the popular euphoria of a fortnight ago

Share
Related Topics

The Paralympic Games, which open in London today, could change people's attitude towards disability for ever, the capital's Mayor, Boris Johnson, has suggested. It is not hard to see why he says that. Almost 5,000 athletes will compete in 11 days of sport in which the British team has been given a target of 103 medals – almost one per hour of the competition. The festivities promise to rekindle the popular euphoria engendered by the London Olympics – from which the nation has suffered unwelcome withdrawal symptoms ever since.

Indeed, many believe that this second course in a great banquet of athletics, archery, cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, swimming, weightlifting and wheelchair rugby will be all the more inspiring for the fact that the contestants have surmounted so many difficulties on the way. Britain's greatest Paralympian, Baroness Grey-Thompson – who holds 11 gold medals, six London marathon wins and 30 world records – has, however, warned that even such an impressive event may not transform deep-seated discriminatory social attitudes towards disabled people as much as perhaps it should. The large funding gap between Olympic and Paralympic athletes is but one indicator. A more disturbing one is to be found in the week of protest which disability activists today launch against Atos, the Paralympic sponsor that runs the tests commissioned by the Government in an effort to curb sickness benefits.

Lady Grey-Thompson fears that the next generation of disabled sportsmen and women could be held back by Government plans to restrict the Disability Living Allowance which facilitated her participation in competitive sport. That – and the ending of the Independent Living Fund, local authority spending cuts and a retreat from educating disabled children in mainstream schools – could sap the inspiration that the coming days ought to bring to the next Paralympians.

Such misgivings are only exacerbated by the fact that the Paralympics are today returning to their spiritual home. The Games grew from the pioneering work of the refugee German doctor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who revolutionised the treatment of veterans with spinal cord injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital after the Second World War. The stories of bravery, tenacity and gutsy achievement he made possible then will, over the coming days, find modern parallels to excite and exult us in the example of the para-equestrian David Lee Pearson, the wheelchair marathon athlete David Weir, the double amputee blade-runner Oscar Pistorius, or the rower Tom Aggar. Not to mention Ellie Simmonds who, despite dwarfism, became the youngest Briton to win a gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics.

These will be Games which, as Prince Harry has said in his royal greeting, are about ability rather than disability. The motto is "Spirit in Motion", and the applicability of that to the whole nation will be underscored in the victory parade through the streets of London next month. A common misconception is that the name Paralympics is some kind of veiled reference to paraplegia. Its meaning, in fact, is beside or alongside. This is a competition held in parallel with the Olympics and in the same spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. In the far-off days of those first Stoke Mandeville games, the participants were patients with injuries which once led them to be seen as people beyond hope. Today they, and their successors, are a source of hope to the whole world.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments