Some of Britain’s finest disabled athletes – and former Paralympians – have spoken of their hopes for next year’s Paralympics in London, and the changes they hope it could bring in its wake.
They were speaking during International Paralympic Day, held for the first time in London, in Trafalgar Square, just a day before tickets for the London games were set to go on sale.
Scores of athletes from the 20 Paralympic sports were there to explain their events to the public, and to take part in demonstrations of sports such as athletics, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, five-a-side blind football, table-tennis, powerlifting and adaptive rowing.
Visitors included the prime minister, David Cameron, who took part in a game of tennis with London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and two of Britain’s best wheelchair tennis players, John Parfitt and Josh Steels.
Athletes, senior figures from the worldwide Paralympic movement and children from London later took part in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) official invitation to athletes to compete at London 2012.
Earlier in the day, current and former athletes had spoken to Disability News Service about how they would judge the success of the London 2012 Paralympics.
Wheelchair fencer Adrian Derbyshire said he hoped the ParalympicsGB team would set a standard for sportsmanship, “be welcoming to other countries” and “get the country behind us”.
He added: “We are estimating that 50,000 people with some sort of disability will come to the Paralympics and Olympics. It’s showing that London can handle that.”
Adaptive rower Pam Relph said she hoped the Olympics and Paralympics would boost participation in a wider range of school sports, and that disabled people would feel empowered by watching Britain’s Paralympians competing, and winning gold medals.
Fellow adaptive rower James Roe said he believed a successful games would mean Britain getting close to the second place in the medals table the team achieved in Beijing.
He added: “Days like this show that the community is very supportive of the Paralympics. I am looking forward to living up to expectations.”
Zoe Robinson, a boccia gold medallist from Beijing, said she hoped the games would increase interest in her sport. “We have got to get people involved in boccia and get them to come and watch. The more people the better.”
Powerlifter Zoe Newson, who in June was voted the IPC’s athlete of the month, after setting a new European record by lifting almost three times her body weight at the British championships, said that just to be selected for London 2012 would be a “massive achievement”.
She added: “If I don’t do well, I will just be happy that I took part.”
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals before she retired from athletics, said she believed success would mean events running on time, great sport, and high ticket sales, with at least the big finals and evening sessions selling out.
She said she also hoped the Paralympics would see improvements to disability sport, to access and to attitudes to disabled people.
She was realistic about how accessible London could be by next summer – because of the age of much of the city – but warned that the 4,500 disabled athletes, and disabled spectators from around the world, would expect a certain level of “access and service”.
She has already raised in the Lords the issue of whether there will be enough accessible hotel rooms, and intends to keep asking questions of the government. But she believes that hotels “can still do more”.
Ade Adepitan, the TV presenter and former Paralympic wheelchair basketball medal-winner, said: “Obviously we want the stadiums to be full, we want to sell loads of tickets. But the most important thing is success on the track and in the pool and on the basketball court. We want our athletes to win medals.”
But he said he also wanted the Paralympics to have an impact beyond 2012, with increased participation in sport, and improvements to access in London and across the country, and in attitudes to disabled people.
Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said: “The opportunity we have around the Paralympics is in the long term a way of changing attitudes to disability in the UK.”
She said an important part of achieving the aspiration for disabled people to be able to live independently was to “effect an attitude change”.
Miller said the Paralympics should also “underpin the important role disabled people play in UK society”, and improve sports facilities and boost access in other areas, such as public transport.
She said she believed London had made “enormous progress in the last few years” in improving access, despite the challenges posed by such an old city.
Sir Philip Craven, the IPC’s president, said he believed a successful games would be one in which there were “loads of spectators, great performances from the athletes, and the British public showing us how they appreciate Paralympic sport as sport”.
But he said the “key thing is that everybody has a real fun time”.
Tickets for the 2012 Paralympics are on sale from Friday 9 September until Monday 26 September.
8 September 2011