by Daisy Cutter
Get the Kleenex at the ready, prepare to say ‘awww’ a lot, and be inspired to make that time-consuming risotto despite you being worn out after work because you’ve just witnessed a girl with a missing limb wheel her way to a personal best. The sight of her little face beaming when she crossed the line, bless her, well it makes you proud to be British doesn’t it and really makes you think. After all, if she can overcome all the hardships that she’s endured and achieve a 1500m in record time then perhaps your troubles in the office with your overbearing boss are a trifling concern. She is nothing short of an inspiration, something you will relate to your friend later as you swap competitive sob stories – “I got through half a box of tissues. I just couldn’t stop blubbing, especially when I saw that clip of her as a child in hospital. It’s marvellous isn’t it, what they can do”.
Able-bodied ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pride of Britain Awards in lycra, a deep well of feel-good sentimentality you can draw from again and again in the weeks ahead to make you feel empowered through osmosis.
It was supposed to be the London 2012 Paralympic Games, a feast of sporting excellence that caps a wonderful summer of sport, featuring some of Britain’s finest athletes, swimmers, cyclists and equestrians as they take on the rest of the world.
In the aquatic centre 17 year old Eleanor Simmonds will be hoping to replicate her two golds from Beijing in the 100m and 400m freestyle while on the track David Weir – one of the UK’s greatest ever Paralympians and gold medallist in the T54 800m and 1500m in Beijing 2008 – will be competing in his fourth games and cementing his reputation as a homegrown legend. Jonnie Peacock meanwhile, the new T44 100m World Record holder after clocking 10.85, takes on South African Oscar Pistorius in a battle royale between the sprinter supreme and the new pretender to the throne.
As a fan of sport, and all that makes sport so special, I was really looking forward to seeing all of this.
But that was until the event was hijacked by a nation still dewy-eyed and emotional after an incredible Olympics, a nation that means well but whose attitude to men and women with disabilities is largely one of pity, ignorance or/and condescension.
The rising sentimentality in the lead up to these games – that will showcase athletes who can run faster and jump higher than any one of you reading this – has been cloying in the extreme with the focus on the disability rather than the person who just happens to have that disability.
Worse still Channel 4 – who I’m assuming will broadcast the games in a mature and decent manner – have found it necessary to pre-empt their coverage with a series of adverts that resort to syrupy emotional manipulation and back-story that would make the X-Factor proud.
Of the forty-nine athletes competing for Great Britain in the Paralympics there are Iraq war veterans, those that were born with a disability, and some who endured horrendous misdealings of fate to find themselves registered disabled. And yes of course they deserve an immense amount of admiration for how they’ve turned a potentially awful situation into such a positive stamp of self – and due acknowledgement is worthy of the fortitude and dedication required to achieve that goal – but surely the patronising head-tilting glow of vicarious pride that seems to be so prevalent at present directly undermines the very ethos of having a Paralympics?
The ‘para’ is short for ‘parallel’ and the equality that word aspires for is lost when the public concentrates so stridently on the disability rather than the person. Furthermore it propagates the mindset of the idiots who lean down to talk to those in wheelchairs like they’re five years old and then ask someone closeby if they take sugar in their tea.
That is an exaggeration perhaps but I do know two things.
Firstly, by reaching the very pinnacle of their sport the athletes competing at these games deserve far better than to be demeaned by a soundtrack of M People’s Search For The Hero.
And that they have absolutely no responsibility to ‘inspire’ or ‘uplift’.
Unless they win of course. In which case I’ll be welling up with the rest of you.