LONDON 2012: 500 days to go to the opening of the Paralympic Games
In just 500 days from now the 2012 Paralympic Games will begin in London. It will be a very proud moment for me both as a UK Paralympian but also as someone who grew up around the corner from the Olympic site in Stratford, East London.
I wasn’t keen on the idea of wheelchair basketball at first but once I started playing I was hooked and I’ve never looked back. I played as part of Britain’s Wheelchair basketball team in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004. Winning a bronze medal in the Athens Paralympics remains one of my proudest moments.
The Paralympic Games returns to its spiritual home in 2012 as the UK was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. In 1948 Doctor Ludwig Guttman organised a sports competition for a group of wounded British war veterans at Stoke Mandeville hospital, 4 years later Dutch athletes took part making it an international event and by the 1960 Games 400 athletes from 21 countries took part and the competition was officially recognised as the ‘Paralympic Games.’
The growth of the Paralympic movement since then has been phenomenal and in 2012 almost 4200 athletes will compete in 20 sports over 11 days. And we expect 2 million people will come to watch the events.
We here in the UK recognise what a huge privilege it is to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games but also the responsibility that comes with it. We are determined to host the most accessible Games ever in 2012.
Disability access has been incorporated into the design and structure of the buildings, open spaces and public transport for 2012; ensuring as many people as possible can enjoy the spectacle of the Games.
The UK will take the Paralympics to another level. It’ll be the biggest Games yet in terms of competitors, audience and profile.
The UK’s commitment goes a lot further than the Games themselves, it’s about harnessing the opportunity the Games present to bring about a real change in society’s attitude to disability and disability sport ; to create a more open and inclusive society.
The 2012 Games will be a great platform to demonstrate what the UK has achieved for disabled people inside and outside the sporting arena. Of course no country is perfect and there is still more the UK can do to make society more inclusive, but I believe we’re leading the way and I hope other countries are inspired to do the same.
We’re also using the 2012 Paralympic Games as an opportunity to encourage more disabled people to take part in sport at the grassroots level. So we not only produce the next generation of Paralympians but also demonstrate how people’s lives can be generally enriched through sport; encouraging people to have a go.
I regularly go into schools to coach basketball. It fills me with pride to see the younger generation of disabled athletes much more comfortable in their own skin than I was at their age. They know their self-worth and are not allowing their disability to be a barrier in anyway. This demonstrates there have been positive societal changes over a generation.
I want to use this opportunity to encourage people around the world to be part of the 2012 Paralympic experience. Either by coming to the Games themselves, watching them on television or simply being inspired by them to start a sport or new activity that they haven’t had the confidence to try before.
We’re going to put on the most incredible spectacle for the world in 2012. London is one of the most exciting cities in the world; a melting pot of cultures and ideas. Every nation will have a home crowd here to cheer them on and I really hope people have fun and are inspired. That’s ultimately what we want to do; inspire people.