After an Olympic fortnight which went much, much better than many expected – in terms of logistics, medal haul and the general national mood– it’s understandable that many people felt a bit miserable that they were ending yesterday. Nor were they shy about expressing it: Twitter became a vast echo chamber of people sighing “it’s all over then, what will we do now?”
The answer is obvious of course: get ready for 16 days time and the opening of the Paralympics. Indeed, there were many people Tweeting just that yesterday in response to the gloom-mongers, reflecting the fact that there is a real and broad streak of excitement about these Paralympics.
After all, kicking off on the 29th and lasting 11 days, around 4,200 disabled athletes from 150 countries will fill London arenas in front of a global audience, and we should all be excited about the prospect. Just this morning, Olympic hero Chris Hoy tweeted “Who’s feeling a little bit sad this morning? Let’s all huddle and have a big twitter hug – don’t worry, there’s still the Paralympics to come!”
Of course, with the media machine and the money that the Olympics can command, the Paralympics can’t match them in grand spectacle or stupefying viewing figures, but they can still be a thrilling and unifying sporting spectacle. There will be amazing feats of human will and athleticism to match Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis, often given extra meaning by the barriers overcome. We will see the flowering of new stars, from Tom Aggar the rower to swimmer Ellie Simmonds.
As Jackie Ashley writes in today’s Guardian, “The Paralympics may be morally more important than the Olympics. For the stupid adoration of people because of their physical luck has as its flip side the stupid ridiculing or hostility to people because of their disabilities. In essence, it’s the same thing. The comedian’s vile insult, the punch at a bus-stop, the schoolboy mockery of wheelchair-users are all failures of empathy – failures to see the people who are actually there.”
The Paralympics is a huge opportunity to celebrate the achievements of disabled people, and if enough people talk about them, and that leads to enough people watching them, it really could create a shift in the way the public views disability. This is crucial at a time when there is so much misinformation about disability and the hordes of people faking or exaggerating conditions to claim benefits (as actual DWP figures show, this number is actually vanishingly small).
All of which makes the Paralympics sound rather worthy, but they are also truly involving and exciting, as anyone who has tuned in during previous years will know. The fact that more than 2m of the 2.5m tickets have been sold, and it seems impossible to get hold of the rest tells its own story. And Channel 4 has done a superb job promoting the games, with their high tech, high excitement advertising and marketing.
Now we all need to spread the word further and once again exceed expectations. Team GB didn’t disappear yesterday, they just handed over the baton to the new Team GB.
Jaime Gill, head of press and public affairs.