Last night, I sat alongside 8,000 fellow spectators overlooking the athletics stadium at Stoke Mandeville. Whilst awaiting the arrival of four flames representing each of the home nations, I was deeply struck by how far we have come. For the inaugural Paralympic games of 1948, whilstLondonhosted the ‘austerity’ games at the Iconic Wembley Stadium, the field of play for the handful of Paralympians was a lawn. A lawn located on the very site on which 64 years later, thousands of us gather to celebrate the arrival of the global event the Paralympics has now become.
Another measure of the progress that has been achieved by the Paralympic movement is the level of sponsorship it has obtained. Whilst household names such as Lloyds TSB and BT have been somewhat inconspicuous when it comes to promoting the Paralympics on TV and radio, their support for last night’s Paralympic Flame ceremony was very apparent. It was also very pleasing to be offered a seemingly unlimited supply of free apples and bananas by Sainsbury’s, a welcome healthy alternative to the usual fast food on offer.
There were however, a number of disappointing aspects to the event from a sustainability perspective. Much of the food packaging I came across were non-degradable burger containers and polystyrene hot drinks cups. I was also left wondering if there is a collective noun for all that assorted stuff that is showered on us by sponsors to help us demonstrate our appreciation and excitement (apart from litter, of course) – answers on a postcard please! One abiding question I was left with is; when did the human species lose the ability to generate audible applause without the artificial aids such as ‘bam bam sticks’ or ‘clap banners’? Call me curmudgeonly, but speaking as someone with sight impairment, the sound of human hand connecting with human hand is considerably more rewarding than the disembodied clatter generated by such devices, and ironically more audible.
How I’d like to close this first blog for the Commission is with my impressions of the most lasting and optimistic effect of last night’s celebrations. Perhaps the most inspiring thing I witnessed was not on the big screens or the stage, or the powerful statements uttered over the PA system. It was the spectacle that surrounded me – that thousands of local people, of all ages and abilities, from many backgrounds chose to turn up. And, what I think is a fantastic cause for optimism, is that many of them were young people, ranging from very small children to teenagers. They encountered and interacted with disabled people of all impairment groups, whether in the audience, as performers on stage or competitors on the big screens. I believe that the potential benefits to our society that are gained through those young peoples’ experiences and impressions at last night’s event should not be underestimated as a source of hope for the future.