IN MY VIEW: Paralympic Legacies
Published: 18 Dec 2013 By Keith Gilbert
Legacy remains one of the most important issues relating to multisport mega-events such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and other major events across the globe and the Paralympics is no exception to the quest for long term legacy.
In the search for a better understanding of, and approaches to ensuring Paralympic legacy - David Legg and Keith Gilbert published the first, and to date, only book addressing the legacy of the Paralympic Games. In the book, we reviewed the concept of legacy across previous Paralympic Games going as far back as 1976 by providing a series of chapters under the headings of ‘The Paralympic Legacy Debate’, ‘Paralympic City Legacies’, ‘Emerging Issues of Paralympic Legacy’ and ‘Reconceptualising Paralympic Legacies’. The issues arising were discussed based on a meta-analysis of the author's work and offered interesting ideas which if taken up by the International Paralympic Committee, International Olympic Committee, Bid Committees, OCOG’s, International Federations and other major sports could contribute towards ensuring a positive impact on the legacy of future Paralympic events.
Legacy and indeed Paralympic legacy is an important concern which has not been fully explored and there is sparse information in the academic world regarding the effects of sports and their relationship to civil legacy on a nation state. However, what we have concluded is that while much has been accomplished there is still a great deal that could be achieved in future Paralympic Games to maximize the legacy impact. We believe that this will require concerted efforts from many stakeholders but perhaps most importantly further focused leadership from the International Paralympic Committee itself.
If we argue that ‘legacy is the process of developing a new culture in a city through regeneration and providing opportunities for cultural, environmental and economic renewal’ then we need to ask to what extent the Paralympic movement has control and what role does it play in developing it? On face value the IPC appears to have limited direct power with respect to the host cities and without this it cannot effectively play a role in societal or cultural renewal. Certainly it would be positive if the IPC were to make public their thoughts regarding legacy from the 2012 London Games and also their future directions in this regard. Indeed, it appears as though much of the Paralympic legacies occur through a form of Olympic to Paralympic osmosis.
In this regard, I should note that the concept of a sporting legacy is in itself problematic when it is used to categorise what is left behind after a Paralympic Games. There have been authors who have referred to the concepts of the two dimensions of Paralympic legacy - principally that of soft and hard legacies. However, it appears as though there are quite a few specific hard legacies which to their credit have been positively influenced by the IPC and left behind after a Paralympic Games. We are of course aware of specialist transport, (which is almost always in the city already) and the development of the athlete’s village to make it disability friendly (mostly wheelchair access, ramps on the sidewalks, shower and bathroom facilities) by the OCOG. Where we see this being extended for instance is through the IPC influencing the development of accessible sports venues across nations, long term and far reaching commitments to education, and the enabling of the broadest and deepest media coverage possible (these are but a few examples).
In stating this we understand that the IPC are developing strategies to deal with these problems. In fact issues of legacy from sporting events go to the very heart of society, and as such we ask the important question as to what sort of society we live in when we need outside sporting bodies such as the IOC or the IPC to change and deliver basic services which should be delivered in the context of normal societal structures. It is agreed that the IOC have created a sporting revolution in the delivery of major sporting events by using the legacy term and by making promises and influencing the host governments and business to develop that which probably should have happened anyway - regardless of an able bodied or disability focus. Furthermore, governments support the bidding process and persuade their citizenry that they need the sporting event and that there will be tangible legacy rewards for going along with their grandiose plans. Indeed, legacy plans are driven deep into the minds of ordinary people as they imagine and are promised a new utopia with fancy buildings, sports parks, waterways, shops and the promise of a better lifestyle. People are influenced into believing that along with the major sporting event comes a new lifestyle and proof of this is in the fact that there has been billions of tax payers’ dollars spent in the name of legacy or what is left behind from recent major sporting festivals. However, what we have seen and learned through the development of the aforementioned book is that tremendous legacies have been left, in many, if not all the cities examined that have hosted a Paralympic Games. The IPC have been instrumental in many of these positive outcomes. We are concerned, however, that the extent or reach of these has perhaps not been fully realized or promoted – yet we are not naïve to the challenges in doing so from any number of perspectives – be they financial, human resource, or political. What we do hope for, however, is a commitment from the highest levels of leadership in sport, both Paralympic, Olympic and host nations to recognizing and capitalizing on the benefits of hosting the Paralympic Games. I feel privileged to be contributing to this process, and watching how future Paralympic Games continue to build upon the tremendous traditions and innovations begun by Sir Ludwig Guttmann.
By Dr. Keith Gilbert, Sports Management Professor at the School of Health, Sport & Bioscience, University of East London
More information regarding the book can be found at: