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: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)