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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Silhouette of clubber dancing Hacienda nightclub  

A comedian has opened an alcohol-free nightclub. Is he having a laugh?

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape