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Inclusion: A Whole New Ball Game

Posted: Mon, 29 Feb 2016 10:40

Inclusion: A Whole New Ball Game

The London 2012 Paralympic Games, the fourteenth Summer Games, set a new benchmark for Rio and Japan.

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 with 223. Russia and Brazil both had 181; Australia, 160; France, 158; Germany, 152; and Japan, 135.

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. Just 16 ex-members of the British Forces took part but numbers grew very quickly and within just 6 years, 14 nations were represented by 1954.

Even before the start of the Summer Olympics in London 1.4 million Paralympic sports tickets had been sold, surpassing the total number sold in Sydney. In August 2012, The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ( 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 wheel chair basketball match.

At 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.

The 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 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 the social agenda associated with the Paralympic legacy has made a good start.

This article was first published by SSF Tokyo in November, 2015. David Minton is founder and Managing Director of The Leisure Database Company

Tags: Legacy, London 2012, Paralympics, Sport

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