The Simon Heng column

I love the Olympics. As a younger, cynical adult, I would promise
myself every four years that I wouldn’t waste 20 days of my life
watching a bunch of hormone-enhanced, drug-fuelled obsessives
driving themselves to exhaustion in pursuit of a metal disc. But
every four years, some aspect of the competitions would catch my
attention – usually something unexpected such as women’s
weightlifting, or archery – and I’d be hooked again.

When the Paralympics began to be televised, and I became disabled
at around the same time, I was rather sniffy about those too.
People with disabilities doing sport slightly slower, lower or
shorter? Why did they bother? Why did anybody else bother watching
them? Wasn’t it just patronising to admire disabled athletes
(“didn’t they do well, considering their disabilities”)? As a
disabled person, I thought: aren’t they over-compensating?

Some time during the Sydney Olympics, particularly the Paralympics,
I got the point. It was the Australian audience’s appreciation of
the competitive spirit, of the will to succeed in Paralympic sport
in particular, that made me realise it’s all about aspirations and
London 2012, if it can carry through the spirit of the bid, is
about much more than British prestige in the world. It is about
inclusivity, building for the future, involving children more than
anything else.

For disabled people, the least it will give us is a more accessible
capital. It will have to, to accommodate 10,000 disabled athletes
and their supporters. I’m hoping that it will also raise the
profile of disabled people as achievers, particularly in the eyes
of children – disabled children specifically, who need role models
and heroes.

Let’s hope the stadiums are as full for the Paralympics as they
will be for the Olympics. Gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thomson said
that she wouldn’t be involved in the bid if the Paralympics was
seen as something tagged on to the end.

Maybe then people in this country will see disabled people as
capable of being more than dependants, the eternal children of this

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