Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee believes that the 2012 Paralympic Games will be a giant step forward in a change in attitude towards disability sport.
There is no doubt the games have captured the imagination of the British public, some who were wary that this was an acceptably packaged event that was exploiting people with disabilities, something it most definitely is not.
2.5 million tickets have been sold and the crowd has cheered every athlete with an enthusiasm that would be hard to match anywhere in the world, the level lifting however another few decibels for their own home-grown athletes.
Maybe it is Britain’s involvement in a war that they do not understand and witnessing their brave soldiers returning with limbs missing, that has helped the Paralympics gain acceptance, which is ironic when you consider that Ludwig Guttman encouraged war veterans with spinal injuries after World War Two to play sport, and from that came the Stoke Mandeville Games and then the Paralympics.
According to Sir Philip the challenge is going to be building on the legacy of London 2012. ” To make sure this is a legacy for the next 20 years we have to get it right. The fundamental requirement is a change in attitude and that is what will happen on the back of these games. I am confident that it will happen.” He has said.
In fact his thoughts are backed up in two polls in the UK. Both asking the same question in different ways whether these games had changed people’s attitude to disability, one was tracking at 56% the other at 86%, but both very positive that we are moving in the right direction.
However Sir Philip admits that there is still plenty of work to be done “There is a job to do now for organisations like the British Paralympic Association to educate all sports clubs that Paralympic sport is so similar to Olympic sport, with one or two slight differences.”
Australia has a long way to go in this respect, the paltry coverage in the Australian and West Australian newspapers is quite simply embarrassing. The lack of Australian media -The ABC excepted – at the games is obvious in comparison to the other nations in the top ten on the medal table.
Yet the problem runs deeper than that when the very organisations at which many of our top Paralympic athletes have scholarships to train and help them prepare for the Paralympics have been slow to promote these same athletes. The question is were they as slow to bask in the Glory of their Olympic successes? Knowing how few of these there were one would have thought they would have jumped at the chance to justify their existence, but then again there may be a certain amount of guilt about the way these athletes are treated. For example at one organisation the wheelchair athletes are unable to utilise the state-of-the-art gymnasium because there are only stairs to access it and no lifts!
Sir Philip Craven is right, attitudes must change and this sport loving nations needs to show the media and the sporting bodies of Australia that Sport really is for all. Maybe then we will truly be a great sporting nation