The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for April, 2011

The Paralympic Commitment

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The countdown continues.  And as it does, we reach another Olympic milestone.  But not just any other milestone.  On 17 April it will be 500 days to the 2012 Paralympic Games.

This means that in 500 days our generation will have the chance to put disability sport squarely on the map of London and show that the UK truly is a country that is welcoming, diverse, tolerant – and dynamic.  So this also means that London 2012 must be the most accessible Games ever.

This is the intention.  Why?  Because it is important and right that the Olympics and Paralympics should be one and the same.  But it’s also very fitting that London should take up this challenge because the Paralympics in 2012 are returning to the country that gave the movement its beginning.

As so for the history.  As the shadow of war was receding, Dr Ludwig Guttman held the first disability sport competition for wounded WWII war veterans at Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1948. Four years later Dutch athletes took part, making it an international event.  And by the 1960 Games 400 athletes from 21 countries joined the competition and it was officially recognised as the ‘Paralympic Games’. The growth of the Paralympic movement over the last 50 years has been phenomenal.  In 2012 almost 4200 athletes will compete in 20 sports in 15 different venues over 11 days.  That’s a ten-fold increase in competitors since those first 1960 Games.  And we expect that 2 million people will come to watch the events, more spectators than have ever watched the Paralympics.  If that happens then it will really be something to be proud of.

The UK and Sweden have both achieved a good deal in promoting disability rights and accessibility across the board, whether in the workplace, community or, increasingly, in sport.  Sweden set a positive example in the 1990s by offering supplementary support to disabled people so that they had the right to free personal care support.  But of course we can still do more – and this is where the Paralympics plays a role.

For our part in Britain we’ll use the Games to encourage more disabled people into sport. Of course this will, we hope, give the impetus necessary to create the next generation of Paralympians.  But it will also demonstrate how sport can enrich the lives of disabled people and the inclusiveness and diversity that we’re proud of about Britain today.  It has to be about creating a more open and inclusive society.  Here and all around the world.

Earlier this week, leading UK supermarket Sainsbury’s launched a grass-roots initiative in East London to get 1 million young people into disability sport and on 17 April Deloitte will issue an independent report on participation in disability sport.  Initiatives such as these will really make a difference in boosting participation of disabled people in sport and also in bringing about real and lasting change in society’s behaviour towards our disabled community.

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Growing Ambitions

Friday, April 1st, 2011

There’s a lot of talk in the world I inhabit about how to stimulate economic growth.  This might seem a bit strange in Sweden, given the turbo-charged power surge in the Swedish economy in 2011.  But it’s worth remembering  four years economic expansion were wiped out in the EU during 2008-09 and the pace of recovery in Europe continues to lag behind the rest of the world.  Even Sweden is not quite back where it was in terms of output before the crisis struck.  And without sustained growth – not the gasp-inducing rebound version but the boring, steady kind – Europe faces a bleak future with more and more people out of work, fewer companies investing here and a relative economic decline.

What does this mean, then?  Well, we want young people to find jobs when they finish their education; we want our welfare systems to survive and perform to the high standards we expect; and we want our children to enjoy better living conditions than we (and the generations before us) had.  If we’re to achieve any of this we need to get Europe back on track.  And this can best be done by member states working together.  For the UK government, returning our economy to sustainable, balanced growth is the overriding priority.  This means responsible actions at home – including tough decisions on public spending combined with measures to boost employment, enterprise and innovation.  Many of you will have noted these features in this week’s UK budget for growth, that cut corporation tax again and will create 100,000 new apprenticeship positions.

But we can’t do it alone.  The British and Swedish Prime Ministers, David Cameron and Fredrik Reinfeldt, along with seven other leaders from the Nordics, Baltics and Poland, last week called for a new economic policy direction for Europe to get the economy growing.  And yesterday David Cameron  published a pamphlet entitled,  “Let’s Choose Growth” to push the debate forward.  There are the real-world things that would make a difference to our prosperity and wellbeing.  For example, making it easier to buy products and services on-line and across borders – better for consumers as they can truly shop around; better for businesses as they can reach a wider market; and  better for workers as this creates jobs.  And making it easier and more affordable for businesses to recruit; opening up trade with emerging and dynamic markets such as Brazil, India and China; and providing better conditions for innovators to get their products to market.

This is important stuff.  Growth is essential if we want to achieve our ambitions.  And it is part of the key to well-educated, better integrated, more equal societies.  We can only achieve this by working together.

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