Why the Paralympics are really the greatest show on earth

While recently talking about the upcoming Paralympics in London, a non-journalist colleague said: "I really have no interest in seeing someone with one arm swim 200m." Another agreed: "Are you going to give everyone their own games? The Catholic Games? The White Games? Where do you draw the line?"

I pointed out that the argument was similar to that against same-sex marriage - "If you allow gays to marry, where does it stop?" He replied: "No, same-sex marriage is about equality."

Britain may have legal equality between the able-bodied and disabled, but the reality and attitudes has a way to go yet. And the Paralympics could take us a long jump forward.

Blade runner Oscar Pistorius: AP

The Paralympics - as in parallel to the Olympics - is an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate a different class of sport.

These will be the first Paralympics in its 52-year history to sell out.

Getting tickets - and I know this from personal experience - is a desperately competitive process involving watching Twitter feeds for alerts about new tickets going on sale. Family members of some athletes will go without because the demand is so high.

Meanwhile, for the first time in the UK, the broadcasting contract was split for the Olympics and Paralympics. Where previously we got an hour highlights show buried in the TV schedule - and that's all North American audiences will still get - Channel 4 in Britain is stripping its entire line-up except for news and a half-hour soap opera to air the games. They have been building it up for months and half their presenters are disabled.

Anecdotal evidence says those with half a brain realise that athlete after athlete at these games have inspiring personal stories who find energy and drive through the normality of sport.

The only explanation I can imagine for ignoring a whole section of sport is that some media outlets believe, "Half people, half coverage".

Is Paralympic sport unworthy because it makes people uncomfortable?

Wall-to-wall TV coverage and packed audiences will make it harder for the rest of the media to ignore the games however. Social media might also increase the visibility.

Part of the importance of ensuring that visibility in Paralympic sport is for the parents of the world who have children with disability, whether inherited from birth or imposed by the circumstances of life.

These are the role models that show anything is possible. They hold up a mirror to the rest of us who sit on our asses tweeting all day and make us look thoroughly lazy and feel rightly guilty.

If there is a legacy that I'd like to see come out of London's summer of sport, it is a changing in attitude to disability, to access to sport for those with a disability, and to the reporting and media coverage of disability sport. You can easily find football and cricket matches. But there are amazing human achievements found elsewhere and possibiilities in even the poorest child running through a slum inspired by Oscar Pistorius.

Yes, these are unique games for a group of unique individuals. It isn't a question of creating separate events for everyone, but providing a venue to celebrate the top sporting achievements. Of all the classes and types of humans, only those with disability are excluded from the Olympics.Their capacity is different, but no less spectacular.

This IS about equality - the equal opportunity for the highest in human achievement. If you're not interested in seeing someone with one arm swim 200m - and all the other varieties - then you don't want to look in the mirror. We are, each of us, unique and rejection of people for being different is rejection of ourselves. Any of us could become disabled through circumstances and could find recovery and strength through sport.

Each of us can take inspiration from the Paralympics. Each of us can achieve in parallel to others and make a world just a bit more equal,thanks to sport.

Updated Date: Aug 29, 2012 09:04 AM

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