Older readers, i e those of you who were around at the end of last year, may remember my blog where I wrote about how the Paralympics are returning to the country where the concept of organised, competitive disability sport really started.
On 29 August, sixty-four years after the first disability sport competition, the world’s second largest sporting event after the Olympics opens. What began in 1948 as an archery competition for wounded veterans of the Second World War, held at Stoke Mandeville hospital, has grown into an event with almost 4,200 athletes from 150 nations competing in 20 sports in 15 venues, in 471 events over 11 days. The sale of tickets is hitting record levels with over 2.2m sold so far.
Although the UK is recognised as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, this is the first time the UK will have hosted the Games themselves.
London 2012 are the first Games where the planning and organisation of the Olympics and Paralympics have been fully integrated: from design and infrastructure, to open spaces and public transport. This is also the first time that we’ve seen events sold out months in advance.
At the centre of it all is of course the sport. But there is more to the Paralympics. Britain and the Sweden are among the most diverse and tolerant societies in the world. But we are under no illusions that there is still much more to do if we want to secure the best possible legacy and we understand the importance of showing a great example to other nations with even more to do to ensure full respect and tolerance to disabled citizens and sportspeople.
I hope that the extensive media coverage of the Paralympics around the world will contribute to a deeper understanding of disability sport, that the athletes competing will be seen as part of a genuine elite and that in future years, host nations will be inspired to follow London’s example and will integrate fully the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The British Paralympics team is one of the best, second in the medal table in Beijing in 2008. Sweden has a strong team too, with many medal hopes, including among those participating for the first time. We have high hopes that the Games will the most watched, most accessible and most integrated of all time.
A year after that initial competition in 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttman, the neurologist who organised the event at Stoke Mandeville, hoped that ‘one day there would be Olympics for the disabled’. His dream has come true. Let’s hope that many dreams will come true for inspiring and inspired athletes from across the world in the UK over the next two weeks.