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

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence