Channel 4 has been criticised for its “absurd” and “very disappointing” decision to choose five non-disabled people – and not a single disabled person – to take part in the London 2012 Paralympic torch relay.
The broadcaster, which has the UK television rights for this summer’s Paralympics, was allowed to nominate five people who embody the Paralympic values of “courage, determination, equality and inspiration”.
Channel 4 selected five non-disabled people, picking two Paralympic coaches, a Channel 4 producer, and two parents of disabled people.
A Channel 4 spokesman said the five “absolutely embody Paralympic values” as they are “courageous, determined and inspiring people with equality at the heart of what they do”.
The Paralympic torch relay will be much shorter than the 70-day Olympic version, with the torch to be carried by teams of volunteers on a 24-hour relay from Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, to the Olympic Stadium in east London in time for the opening ceremony on 29 August.
Richard Currie, an executive member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said selecting five non-disabled people for the relay was “very disappointing”, and a missed opportunity to show disabled people working together with their non-disabled allies to bring about changes in society.
He said the decision “goes against all of the good work that Channel 4 is trying to do to increase its diversity and equality in its programmes”.
A disabled person who is set to take part in the torch relay, but asked not to be named, said: “Channel 4’s decision not to select disabled people for its team in the Paralympic torch relay is absurd and shows what a muddle the whole relay event has become.”
He said he believed that, because “Paralympics stands for parallel Olympics”, the Paralympic torch relay should have taken place at the same time as the Olympic torch relay.
He added: “Surely by combining the two you’re showing that disability sport is a worthy equal. You would also give disabled torchbearers the chance to be saluted by their own communities.
“What we have been given is a very poor tokenistic version of the Olympic relay conducted over a single 24-hour period with the vast majority of the UK’s population asleep for half that time. How bloody convenient!”
Channel 4’s decision comes after London 2012 sponsor Sainsbury’s admitted using a panel of four non-disabled employees to select about 140 people to take part in the Paralympic torch relay.
Deborah Poulton, Channel 4’s project leader for the London 2012 Paralympics, said the five nominations had come from members of the team who had worked on its London 2012 programmes over the last two years.
She said: “We asked them to nominate the people who they felt truly embodied the Paralympic values and who impressed them the most.
“The five people we have chosen have shown admirable commitment to their work with disabled athletes and sport, and, importantly, have brought the Paralympics to a wider audience.
“We didn’t actively seek out disabled or non-disabled people – we sought out people who would be the most inspirational and deserving participants. We are very proud of the team we have chosen.”
The five chosen are: Jackie Bullen, mother of a member of Britain’s goalball team and Goalball UK’s press officer; Stacey Burns, series producer of Channel 4’s That Paralympic Show; Jenny Archer, coach of wheelchair athlete and double gold medal-winning Paralympian David Weir; Tony Larkin, head coach of Britain’s blind football team; and Heather Hodge, volunteer with a disability charity and mother of an eight-year-old disabled boy who made his own video that helped raise awareness of Paralympic sport.
28 June 2012