The London 2012 Paralympic Games helped change the way the world thinks about sport for people with disabilities in a way which took many observers by surprise.
Buoyed by remarkable TV coverage and massive mainstream press coverage in the host country, London 2012 looks set to become a watershed for Paralympic sport. But in the afterglow of London, the International Paralympic Committee was refusing to get carried away. The body understands perhaps more than any other that one swallow doesn’t make a summer and pledged to build on the momentum rather than simply being carried along by it until it petered out.
There has been plenty of evidence of this determination, not least in the inaugural IPC Athletics Grand Prix, a seven event series launched to give athletes more opportunities to compete against the best in the world which also, says the IPC, developing a framework of excellence in competition management.
This week the IPC announced that Birmingham, UK, would host the final of the IPC Athletics Grand Prix, three weeks ahead of its 2013 World Championships.
It’s a smart move by the IPC as it both harnesses the public awareness, interest and goodwill towards Paralympic sports among the British public and the determination of city authorities to use sports to keep it on the world map.
The result should be full houses at the Alexander Stadium and a further TV and media boost which will help build interest for the World Championships themselves.
The Grand Prix Series started in Dubai while this month it moves to Beijing, Sao Paulo, Italy and the USA. The meeting before the Birmingham showdown will be in Berlin.
“We created this Grand Prix to give athletes a chance to compete at the highest level and we are confident that many of the best will come to Birmingham to test their form ahead of the World Championships,” said Ed Warner, chairman of the IC Athletics Sport Technical Committee.
The programme of Paralympic events for 2013 provides plenty of evidence that the IPC is determined to follow-up of its commitment to momentum building and will have been boosted by a report from the Fast Track agency which suggests that Paralympic sports could be among the major beneficiaries of a change in outlook among some brands when it comes to making key sponsorship decisions.
With genuine competition being reported for TV rights for the Rio 2018 Paralympic Games, these are exciting times for the IPC and a real game changer for athletes, the public and the wider sports business.
But perhaps the most important outcome is the potential of successful Paralympic athletes to change the way that society regards and treats people with disabilities. In Russia, a nation where disability issues have long been swept under the carpet, the organisers of the Sochi 2014 Games have put inclusion at the top of their agenda and launched a programme designed to challenge and ultimately change entrenched attitudes to disabled people and their role in society.