The spectacle is nearly over. Soon world attention will move elsewhere, the Olympics and Paralympics are coming to an end.
But what a spectacle, what an uplift, and what surprises. Quite simply, didn’t we do well? The brilliance of the Olympic Games goes without saying. In fact, there has been so much said that it would be tedious repetition to say any more except, phew!
But the Paralympics are something else. Once the euphoria has melted away, what will be their legacy? My answer is simple. People. Those who succeeded in lifting the spirits, energising the enthusiasm and inspiring the athletes of the future.
But there is more. The 70,000 volunteers who helped with the Olympics and Paralympics – their talent, commitment, the benefit they gave and received from offering their time mustn’t be lost. The volunteer database can be used to ensure that people are offered such opportunities, reflecting their interests, their stage in life and where they live. We must draw down on that enduring gift.
So, what of the Paralympics? Here I have to make a confession. The Paralympics was a post-war invention, a reflection of the miraculous recovery, spiritual as well as physical, of those at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. It was some years after that when I became aware that there was such a thing as the emerging Paralympics. And, yes, I was sceptical.
I was worried on a number of counts. Would this appear patronising? Would it, in the minds of some, lead to ridicule? We know how cruel the world can be.
I was wrong. The commitment to attending, viewing and celebrating the endeavour displayed at the Paralympics is answer enough. The millions who bought tickets. The excellence of performance and display of dedication and the message to those who still write off those with a disability because of unfamiliarity, ignorance or, dare I say it, fear.
In one sense I had been reflecting my own ambivalence about sport in my school days. I enjoyed football with ball bearings in the ball and cricket played with all the dangers that those fielding in the slips normally face, but with the added danger that the batsmen couldn’t see where they were!
I also had the bizarre experience of trying the high jump without being able to see the bar! And of course we had cycling. Yes, counting the pedal strokes before turning the sandpit corner, but more likely ending up head-first in the sand. A far cry from the Velodrome! I even had a crack at tennis, but was somewhat short of Andy Murray’s gold-winning performance.
Channel 4 deserves credit. Not only is it putting enormous resources into the live coverage, it has also ensured that those with different challenges in life through a variety of disabilities could excel as presenters and explainers. Explainers because the Paralympics is much more complicated in terms of the weightings that have to be accorded to different forms of disability within a single competition.
Additionally, the messages that go out to parents of children with some form of special need are critical. Quite simply, your youngsters may not excel at a particular sport but they can aspire to work and live on equal terms with others, to have a fulfilling life and the same hopes and aspirations as others.
Employers, who may balk at the idea of interviewing someone with the kind of challenges with which they are unfamiliar, might now think twice, think three times and then invite that individual to join them. Given the near 50 per cent of disabled men and women of working age who are not gainfully employed, this must be a legacy worth seeking.
Now, after all the emotion and the surge of national pride there will be something lasting from the Olympics. That lasting legacy will be in the lives of the people touched by these Games. That is something all of us can work on in the years ahead.
David Blunkett is MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
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