As we get ready to mark two years to go to the Paralympic Games this weekend, I have been reflecting on how Britain’s strong tradition in disability sport is helping to drive the recovery of our some of our injured service men and women, following a visit to Headley Court rehabilitation centre with Lord Coe last week.
The Paralympic movement was started in the UK when Sir Ludwig Guttmann organised a sports competition for disabled WWII veterans at Stoke Mandeville to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Today the link between the services and Team GB remains strong with many of our top Paralympians coming from the forces.
During my ten years in the Army I saw active service, so none of this is new to me. But at Headley Court I saw real determination and passion in the patients taking part in Operation Battle Back – an initiative which ultimately gives them the chance to train to compete at London 2012. Despite what had happened to them, the daily challenge of striving to be selected to compete in their home Games was a great motivator and testament to their remarkable character.
Even though Britain has such a strong connection to the Paralympics, 2012 will be the first time ever the UK has hosted an official Paralympic Games. So it is fitting that as the Paralympics come home, London will be the biggest event ever, with 4,200 athletes from 150 countries competing in 20 sports.
And I have high expectations, not just in terms of the medal table, but also in terms of what the event can do to break down the perceptions of disabled people in society. I am pleased that the Diversity and Equality report published today shows that the London 2012 partners are continuing to make good progress in increasing access and inclusion to a range of sporting, business, contract and volunteering opportunities created by the Games.
In fact, London 2012 is re-writing the handbook when it comes to organising a Paralympics. For the first time, preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic competitions have been integrated ensuring continuity between the two events for athletes and spectators. Furthermore, our legacy plans have received backing from the International Paralympic Committee who see it as a benchmark for future Games.
This Sunday I’ll be watching Channel 4’s Inside Incredible Athletes documentary, marking the start of the Paralympic broadcasting. The separate competitive tender of the Paralympic broadcasting rights is another groundbreaking act of London 2012 and just shows how important disability sport is in the UK.