The Paralympics legacy - panellists discuss the scope of its impact

September 25, 2012, 10:23 AM GMT+0

With 120 medals – 34 of them gold – and a third place in the medals table, this year's London-hosted Paralympic Games marked an astonishing feat by Team GB, and colossal success in the eyes of supporters.

There were notable victories for a number of Paralympians. Ellie Simmonds carried on her success from the Beijing Paralympics by winning two gold medals and taking five seconds off the World Record time in the 400m freestyle. The 100m sprinter Jonnie Peacock created Paralympic history as he triumphed over Oscar Pistorious and Alan Oliviera to win the 100m crown. Paralympians such as David Weir, Sarah Storey, and Sophie Christiansen were also star performers at the Paralympics.

In the flush of Olympic spirit, wheelchair sprinter Mickey Bushell was optimistic that the Paralympic Games, having "raised the profile of all the sports" involved, would leave a lasting legacy for years to come. Prime Minister David Cameron similarly remarked that the Games had confirmed the UK's position as a “trailblazer” of disabled sports.

But there have been those who have questioned the longevity of the legacy moving on. Paralympic cyclist Arthur Williams wrote emphatically that more attention and funding needed to be given to Paralympic sport moving forward, while Charlie Swinbourne argued that the scope of the Paralympics in terms of categorising ability needed to be reconsidered.

But what were Labs participants' perceptions as to the scope of a Paralympic legacy? And what impact, if any, would the Games have on the lives of disabled people in the United Kingdom?

Paralympics 2012: what legacy can be hoped for?

Of those of you who took part to deliberate these questions in Labs, most said they envisioned the Paralympic games leaving a lasting sporting legacy in the United Kingdom, the most prominent arguments being:

  • That the Paralympic Games would raise further awareness of disabilities and inspire a generation of young disabled children to take part in sport.
  • That the empowering 'feel' of the Games would promote the strengths and extraordinariness of disability, challenging perceptions, rather than focusing on the vulnerability of disabled people

Several participants in Labs did hold the opposite view, however, that the Paralympics would NOT leave a lasting dent in the public consciousness.

  • Most of these individuals said that other concerns, such as the state of the economy, humanitarian concerns in Syria, etc, would take precedence in people’s minds.
  • Other participants believed that Paralympics hype would rapidly diminish once the Games were no longer being broadcast, and with other events and competitions coming up in the sporting calendar.
  • There was a high degree of antipathy amongst people in this group towards the government. Many people expressed concerns that the government would slash funding for disabled athletes in future, and that this would undermine the legacy of the Paralympic games.

These arguments were reprised again with those participants who said there would be no Paralympics legacy in their eyes.

  • Many participants in this group were sceptical, in light of public spending cuts, that sufficient funding would be given to support a lasting Paralympic legacy in the UK.
  • Others expressed fear that the British public would largely forget the heroics of the Paralympic athletes at London 2012 now they had concluded.

Yet when the debate switched to our second question topic, most participants said they felt the Games would NOT have a long-lasting impact on the lives of those with disabilities in the UK.

  • These participants often expressed the belief that for the Paralympics to have a long-lasting legacy, services for disabled people would have to be improved, with public transport in particular needing major investment to meet the needs of disabled people in the country.
  • Other participants voiced disapproval of government’s welfare policies as indicative of a slash in support for disabled people
  • On the other hand though, many participants noted that the Games had changed the perception of the public towards disability. As part of this, others hoped the Games would promote equality of opportunity and greater respect if those with disabilities, as well as empowering them to explore what they could do.

(Click on the titles below to read quotes from participants representing the views expressed in the discussion)

Viewpoint 1- Lasting sporting legacy

Awareness has been reached, with millions of people turning out to watch the Paralympic games. Hopefully the government will continue to invest more money into sports for the disabled and encourage younger participants to take part in a variety of sports” Anon

“I think the Games will indeed inspire a generation and as long as athletes can continue to get funding, the impact will be wider than just sporting – it felt as if the nation's cultural values and attitudes towards disability changed during the Paralympics – if that can continue that will be a wonderful legacy” Anon

Most people in the United Kingdom have not been exposed to disabled sport previously. Given the fantastic coverage by the media, and the amazing standards achieved, particularly by Paralympics GB, I really hope people will perceive disability in a new way in the future” Anon

“Like the Olympics, the Paralympics has inspired a generation of young disabled children to get involved in sport and not to be worried about the stigma attached to them” Anon

“People will now appreciate what others are capable of and disabled people may have been inspired to explore sporting possibilities they may never have known existed. For the latter to happen the opportunities have to be made available in the form of funding and facilities however they are provided” Simon, North Cornwall

“The United Kingdom has always lead the way with regard to disabled sport – the Paralympics did start here after all – but the level of support and competition at London 2012 has been the dawn of a new era” Bill, Tring

“It has changed the way people perceive disabled people” Anon

“This year has been a great year for England, with all the events that have taken place in London. However riding on the back of these waves are the Paralympics. And it is these, above all others that have left people; both able and disabled bodied, under no illusion that whatever terrible thing life may throw at you, you can overcome it! This is a testament to the faith; power and sheer determination of those that have attended the Paralympics. As an able bodied person I am aware just how lucky we are, and know that because of all the things that are happening in the world sometimes we forget. This is the legacy they leave, that no matter how hard life can be.” Daz, Cheshire

“The high level of public exposure will mean many more disabled people will take up sport when previously they would have said that sport is not for them. The success of the Paralympians in nearly all events was fantastic for the country and a continuation of the success at the Olympics” Graham, Edinburgh

“People with disabilities, have, for many years been social outcasts. Hopefully the Games will have educated the public that those of us with disabilities are just as human as those with no disabilitiesBaz, Dorset

Viewpoint 2 - Short-term legacy

“Everyone will be talking about it for a short time and how much they enjoyed it but when the other big sporting events come around, people will start to forget about it and then they will start talking about Brazil 2016” Anon

“I don't think that the government will be able to keep up the funding or will keep up its interest in maintaining the legacy as other cultural, sporting events and so on will end up taking over as happened with the London dome and other projects that they have said were going to be useful to us for a long timeAnon

“A lack of funding will discourage young people to be involvedAnon

“Because there is still an inbuilt ignorance of disability in this country. I thought the Paralympics were marvellous, and answered many questions I had about disabilitiesAnon

“It has raised the profile of the country and its people. But we have short memories. It needs something to keep the momentum going and I think our talent in this country for negativity will put up a fight. I hope I'm wrong thoughMike, Wirral

“Like everything in this country they go over the top one week. The British have a short memorySue

“Any form of sport requires money. Most of this has to come from local or national government. The national government is doing very little to promote sport or anything else” Anon

Viewpoint 3 - No sporting legacy

“Come Christmas it would have been forgotten about” Anon

“The vast amount of money spent on this event and the Olympics and the dire need for spending on much more important public services will mean that in the wider country the sporting legacy will be a lack of funding – and therefore less involvement in sport by disabled people. The event has happened: we now all have to pay for it” Anon

“The feel-good factor will evaporate and things will return to normal Anon

“Everyone will return to their little box and stay there. There isn't going to be any more funding; sports facilities in towns and schools will not improve as there is no money according to the government. Nothing has improved in my town and nothing will. We have a swimming pool that is falling apart, years of debate and plans to improve it and still nothing. This is why we admire the paralympians so much because they are the dedicated ones and not the politiciansRuth, Hove

“People will just drift back to normal. It’s human natureJn

What legacy for those with disabilities?

On the one side of the debate - Pessimism

“Will they keep the ramps for the trains? Will buses be more accessible? No, with government cuts to benefits, nothing will change. If anything, it will get worseRuth, Hove

With government cuts, nothing will changeAnon

“For a short time, it will improve the general image of disability in the United Kingdom and disabled people’s feelings about themselves and what they could do – given the opportunity and, of course, the money. The position of most disabled people in the United Kingdom will become significantly worse – and this will feel worse still due to the optimism engendered by the Olympics. Had the public money spent on the Paralympics been put into helping disabled people generally it could have made a real difference to so many – but the money has been spent. Now we all have to live with the legacy of more debt and austerity – or we could tax the overpaid to pay for it all!Anon

“It will allow the government to stop benefits to disabled people more easily, since they will point at the disabled athletes and say "well they can do that and be disabled, so you lot can obviously be fit to work" Dee, Yorkshire

Hopes for more accessible places, more parking spaces, fewer non-disabled people parking in disabled spaces; more toilets for disabled. Pigs might fly...” K, Midlands

“I hope rather than think that it will help those with disabilities both in their normal daily lives and in involvement with sports. But I am sceptical as to any good long-term help other than that of improving public opinion about those with disabilities, helping to stop discrimination and the thoughts of some, that those with disabilities are scroungers and can do more than they actually can doAnon

“I think overall the legacy of the games will be more of a sporting legacy. The government really needs to improve services for the disabled, especially on public transport. This is one area where investment needs to be increased. The legacy of the games cannot just be sporting, we need to reach across the country and continue to raise the awareness of the disabled, as there are those in society who still ignore the disabled or see them in a negative manner” Anon

On the other side of the debate - Optimism

“I think there has been a national shift in our attitudes to disabled people and disability in general, this needs to be converted into practical changes. For instance, decent access on public transport, more enlightened attitudes in the workplace and more positive and confident approach from disabled people themselves, then this would be a wonderful legacyAnon

“Disabled people will enjoy greater tolerance, understanding and respect about their illnesses or disabilities now that a much larger audience has had a chance to watch and admire what handicapped people are capable of achievingToby S, Retford

“Will help us work towards equality” L, South Wales

“I think it will inspire the disabled to see that they can do just as much in this world as the able -odied. Too bad so few countries broadcast the events because it feels to me like those places are ashamed at worse, or at best not bothered about these brave heroes” Ashley, Nottingham

“I think that greater consideration for the sporting needs of disabled people will be shown during the installation, building or refurbishing of sports facilities. I think people will have a generally greater awareness of sports which can be played by disabled peopleLindsay, Alfreton

Will the Paralympics have a long-lasting legacy?

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