Inclusion, a whole new ball game

The 'greatest Paralympic games ever' claimed Philip Craven, President, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) after the games achieved mass market appeal for the first time. Ultimately the games met and surpassed many expectations including breaking records for ticket sales and heightening the profile of multi-sport events for athletes with disabilities. London 2012 Paralympic Games, the fourteenth Summer Games, set a new benchmark for Rio and Tokyo.

With 4,302 athletes from 164 countries taking part in 503 events in 20 sports, it was the largest Paralympics ever. Great Britain, as host nation sent 294 athletes to compete, the largest delegation, followed by China with 284 and United States 223. Russia and Brazil both had 181, Australia 160, France 158, Germany 152 and Japan135. The Paralympic movement has grown since the first ever organised sporting event for disabled athletes took place in the small British village of Stoke Mandeville in 1948. Then just 16 ex-members of the British Forces took part but numbers grew very quickly and within just 6 years 14 nations were represented in 1954. Today the Stoke Mandeville Stadium is a state of the art sports and leisure centre with a unique sporting history, just 92 miles (148 Kilometres) from the Olympic Stadium. With history in mind Lord Coe, Chairman of LOCOG, launched the official London 2012 training camp programme in 2008 at Stoke Mandeville.

Even before the start of the Summer Olympics 1.4 million Paralympic sports tickets had been sold, surpassing the total number sold in Sydney. In August 2012 LOCOG announced that 2.1 million tickets had been sold, breaking the record of 1.8 million set in Beijing. By the opening ceremony 2.4 million had been sold with the remaining 100,000 sold during the games.

These ticket sales and the huge rise in viewing figures, 38% up on 2008, helped raise the social agenda associated with the Paralympic Legacy. The hope that positive attitudes towards disability sport would reduce much of the discrimination faced by disabled people in everyday life. The top 5 countries' viewing figures for the Paralympic Games belonged to China, Japan, Germany, GB, and France which according to the IPC, underlines the huge potential for growth at future games. Many with direct experience of disability praised the Games for their influence in promoting inclusivity among them was Prime Minister, David Cameron, who in 2002 as a young Member of Parliament, became the father of a disabled child requiring 24 hour care. Lord Coe's closing speech struck a chord with the nation when he said the Paralympics Games opened our minds to what people can do and 'we will never think of sport the same way, and we will never think of disability the same way.'

Two years later, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee offered more events and more medal opportunities for Para-Sport athletes than any Commonwealth Games before showing not only the growth, but the popularity of Para-Sport, at all levels. In 2014 the inaugural Invictus Games took place. Established by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women. Set up to use sport to inspire recovery, a passion of Prince Harry in his role as both a soldier and a sportsman. Over 400 competitors from 13 nations took part in the four day event. Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 driver, whose brother is disabled, became the first ambassador for the Invictus Games earlier this year. Lewis visited competitors to see how they were using sport as part of the recovery process and joined them in a wheelchair basketball match.

In the Invictus Games, Prince Harry took part in wheelchair Rugby, which was recognized as a full medal sport for the first time at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. It has since been featured at the Paralympic Games in Athens, Beijing and London. World Championships and the Paralympics are held every 4 years. Currently, there are more than forty countries that actively participate in the sport, or who are developing programmes within their nation. The three zones are, the Americas, with six active countries; Europe, with fourteen active countries; and Asia-Oceania, with six active countries, including Japan.

The potential of this sport was underlined at London 2012 where capacity crowds watched in awe of both the sport and its athletes. On a recent visit to London SSF Director Kazutoshi Watanabe and colleagues (Tom Yoshida and Max Tamazawa) saw the best international teams in action in the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge held in the Copper Box arena in the Olympic Park. Canada became world champions by beating the USA team while Australia claimed bronze in the playoff against Japan.

On the same evening as the playoff, the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative Award winners were announced and The Leisure Database Company sponsored one of the category awards. Organised by Instructability, the fitness industry training organisation for disabled people. Based in north London, at the Aspire Leisure Centre with the Aspire Charity, Instructability was established for those with disabilities to work in the sport, health and fitness industry. SSF visited this unique site in 2015.

The International Charter of Physical Education and Sport (1978) states that 'every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education and sport' and although the benefits of sport are well publicised yet there are barriers for many who cannot access avenues to participation, including the estimated 15% of the population who have a disability. UNESCO is the United Nations lead agency for Physical Education and in 2013, in response to this need a, UNESCO Chair at IT Tralee in Ireland was established and now leads a global partnership focused on the social inclusion of marginalised groups. Brian Carlin from Aspire Charity and myself representing SSF attended the opening ceremony in Tralee, Kerry, to which the President of Ireland spoke passionately about the need for inclusion.

Inclusion is now a whole new ball game across the UK with support from royalty, top politicians, international and global organisations and of course the general public. There's lots more to do but we have made a good start and the social agenda associated with the Paralympic legacy has made a good start.

David Minton

This article can be found at Sasakawa Sports Foundation.