A Games that can change people's perceptions

London's Paralympics could alter the way the world views inequalities, reports Tom Peck

Wednesday 29 August 2012 10:20
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Pal Szekeres, Hungary: The 47-year-old fencer from Budapest is the only person to have won Olympic and Paralympic medals. In 1988 he won a bronze in the Seoul Olympics – three years later a road accident left him in a wheelchair, a year after that he won
Pal Szekeres, Hungary: The 47-year-old fencer from Budapest is the only person to have won Olympic and Paralympic medals. In 1988 he won a bronze in the Seoul Olympics – three years later a road accident left him in a wheelchair, a year after that he won

With the eyes of the world returning to London for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games tonight, Boris Johnson has promised an event that will not only inspire a repeat of the emotions and excitement of the Olympics but also "change people's attitudes" for ever.

The London Mayor conceded there were still "plenty of things to be attended to" in the final hours before the events, but the capital remains firmly on track for hosting the most successful Paralympics ever, with Mr Johnson saying spectators will be "blown away".

Tonight's opening ceremony for the second-biggest sporting event in the world will begin with a fly-past by disabled pilots. A zip wire leading into the stadium from the top of the Orbit sculpture was spotted yesterday, though its precise use remains a secret. More than 3,000 volunteers will take part in the show, alongside a professional cast of around 100.

The prosaic facts for the sport that follows are promising: around 2.4 million tickets have already been sold, and yesterday Mr Johnson confirmed the transport system "seems to be going well" and that security is "looking good".

But this event is about so much more than successful logistics – or even sporting glory. "For many Brits this will be the first time they have seen the Paralympic Games at all," said the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. "It will be a very big moment to really change perceptions and that will be something to be proud of." He added: "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."

Worldwide anticipation is building too, if television deals are anything to go by. The US channel NBC has been criticised for its unambitious plans, but with 11 more international broadcasters signing television deals – taking the total to 36, covering more than 100 countries – Mr Hunt promised: "People who don't give it the coverage it deserves will realise they made a mistake." The new deals include companies covering Latin America, Pakistan, Ireland, Canada and Iran.

The Games are expected to sell out, with just over 100,000 more tickets to go on sale once the sport gets underway and with measures in place to sell unclaimed seats in accredited areas. The Great British team, known as ParalympicsGB, were officially welcomed into the athletes' village yesterday in the last of 100 welcoming ceremonies performed by the National Youth Theatre. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain's most successful Paralympian, reminded the athletes that the Games – founded by Dr Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire – have UK roots.

"He would be very proud to see you," she said. "You are his legacy."

Further details were revealed yesterday of the victory parade that will carry almost all of Great Britain's Olympians and Paralympians through the capital on Monday 10 September, the day after the Paralympic closing ceremony. Some 21 floats carrying the athletes will travel from Mansion House to Trafalgar Square, with tens of thousands of people are expected to line the streets. Lord Moynihan, the British Olympic Association chief, encouraged schools to let their pupils watch, despite it occurring on a school day.

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