The London Paralympics were undoubtedly a success. Home crowds saw British competitors come away with a decent haul of medals and London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe talked about the games having a seismic effect on public attitudes, stating “I don’t think people will ever see sport the same way again. I don’t think they will ever see disability in the same way again”.
For any Olympic city and nation, the legacy of the games is important, and over a year on from London 2012, there are mixed views on whether London has achieved this for the UK’s disabled athletes. The government has taken some positive steps. A Paralympic Legacy Advisory Group was set up in December to implement a legacy programme and the Office for Disability Issues has developed action plans and campaigns to boost disability sports projects alongside Sport England. UK Sport has also increased funding for Paralympics GB through to the Rio games in 2016, a crucial step in ensuring that the British public can enjoy seeing Paralympians achieve success again next time around.
A number of successful British athletes at the Paralaympics have spoken positively about the impact of the games, noting a turning point in perceptions about disability. Many have been recognised in public and have commented on the fact that people in general were more comfortable talking to them about disability and sport rather than ignoring the subject for fear of saying the wrong thing.
On the negative side, the UK’s government’s adherence to its austerity policies are making life hard for many in Britain and the disability charity Scope has reported disabled people facing hostility because of resentment about welfare and benefits. Whether public support for funding for the 2016 Paralympics holds firm is also debatable in the current economic climate.
The key point for all involved in pushing forward the Paralympic legacy is ensuring that a glorious few weeks in the summer of 2012 does not quickly become a distant memory with disabled sport once again being pushed to the periphery of British sport. Keeping disabled sport in the public eye should be central to any strategy as should ensuring that funding streams remain open to a new generation of athletes. Let’s hope that all involved can deliver on the plans for the legacy.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.