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The Rise of the Paralympics
Wednesday, 07 September 2016 15:00

The Rise of the Paralympics

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A strange thing happened in our house last night, it was the Paralympic opening ceremony in Rio and for the first time ever, we didn’t watch ‘The Great British Bake Off’ live. Instead, we switched to Channel 4 to watch the first ‘The Last Leg’ and wait with baited breath for the opening ceremony to begin.

We wondered whether this was because we were lucky enough to have gone to the London 2012 Paralympics - where we witnessed Richard Whitehead win the gold medal in the 200m T42 Athletics event with a world record time of 24.38 seconds – and experienced first-hand the excitement and sheer joy at cheering your athlete on to victory. The atmosphere in the Olympic stadium was absolutely electric, the pride and happiness palpable.

But it seems that we weren’t alone. A lot of our friends and family, the vast majority of whom had not actually been to the London 2012 Paralympics, were either tweeting or posting that they too had tuned in for the Paralympics opening. Which got me thinking about how the PR and media profile of the Paralympics have changed.

London 2012 Paralympics shifted perceptions of disability among the public, media, politicians and even CEOs. In fact, a survey of 2,880 for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office of National Statistics in March 2013 found that 53% said that the games had changed their view of disabled people for the positive. This was down a mere 1% following a similar survey taken immediately after the games.

Of course, Channel 4 played a huge part in helping to promote this shift in attitude, and continues to do so. It joined the British Paralympic Association (BPA) in focussing on the competitors as athletes and masterminding the term ‘Superhumans’ to show that these athletes are far from sympathy cases.

Channel 4 also started ‘The Last Leg’ which debuted with the London 2012 Paralympic Games. An award-winning British comedy and television talk show, The Last Leg originally ran alongside the 2012 Summer Paralympics each night following the main coverage on Channel 4. Hosted by Australian comedian Adam Hills and co-hosted by Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe it gave an alternative review of the day's events. Hills and Brooker are both disabled, Hills was born without a right foot and Brooker had his right leg amputated when he was a baby.

Featuring a mix of Paralympics highlights, comedy and guests, the show was well received by the public and media alike, with more than a million viewers each night of the Paralympic Games. It is now a regular weekly show, taking a satirical look at the events of the week on a Friday evening.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson - a 16 time Paralympic medal winner herself with 11 of those being gold, retired in 2007 as Britain’s most-decorated female Paralympian - told inews, that whilst the Paralympic profile has been raised to new heights there are still improvements to be made. For instance, televising more disability sport in the years in between Paralympic Games would be a big step in the right direction.

She also believes that social media has been a great way for the athletes to connect with their fans and promote their achievements, taking the coverage into their own hands. “It’s just easier to get information out there. I think the public wants to watch it; they just need the right channels to do it.” London 2012 was a momentous event for the Paralympic Games, she explains. “It just took it to a whole new level. I think the public accepted Paralympians as athletes. Right from the beginning it was two Games, on an equal level. It definitely raised the Paralympics’ profile.”

We hope that the powers that be take note of what Dame Tanni has to say, because it’s clear that Paralympic sport has been taken to the heart of the public and we love it. We're keeping everything crossed for a tonne of medals over the next 11 days!

Read 942 times Last modified on Thursday, 08 September 2016 10:02

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