Paralympic lessons for London
Kim Wright travelled from Hackney to Beijing to see what London can learn from the Paralympic experience.
The Water Cube does colour
As I stepped off a plane from London to Beijing mid-way through September there was absolutely no doubt the Paralympic Games were underway. Everywhere I looked, starting in the stunning airport and out onto the streets and squares of this ancient city, I saw the colourful branding of the Beijing Games and their optimistic slogan ‘One World, One Dream’.
It seemed as if everything that could be branded, was branded. Flags flew on the main roads, banners lined the subways, buildings were ‘dressed’ magnificently; even the people seemed branded as thousands of official volunteers filled the city and Olympic Park wearing bright Beijing 2008 t-shirts.
The branding was impressive and is an important part of how a host city celebrates its Games but it was not the most important lesson from visiting Beijing for the Paralympic Games. In 2012 London will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Hackney is one of the five London host boroughs for 2012 and has about thirty percent of the park within its boundaries. This is significant as being a host for 2012 brings tremendous opportunities for Hackney and its residents. To ensure that there are real, lasting benefits from the Games – as well as ensuring we are ready for the Games themselves – meant that actually seeing how they work in practice was very important.
Building on the successful visit to Beijing for the Olympic Games by Hackney’s elected Mayor, Jules Pipe, and senior council officers, I, along with my colleague Yvonne Folkes, the council’s head of community engagement for 2012, had the privilege of experiencing the Beijing Paralympic Games. There were many things we wanted to achieve from the visit, including seeing first-hand how a host local district managed the challenge of ‘doing the day job’ during Games-time; looking at the complexities of a Paralympic Games park in operation (ticketing, moving around and getting food and water); understanding how Paralympic athletes, their families and supporters experience the Games; seeing how volunteers are organised; and lobbying for Hackney’s sports venues to provide pre-Games training camps for teams coming to London for 2012.
Our week in Beijing was full indeed. The time we spent with Team GB Paralympians and their families in the Lodge – a place made available for them to meet away from the intensity of the competitions and the athletes’ village – was especially important. Here we heard first hand about their experiences, positive and negative, and we need to ensure that these are all fed into the plans for London in 2012.
The British Embassy hosted two significant events, one celebrating the young advocate’s programme and the other marking the launch of the Paralympic pre-Games training camp guide. All night the London stall was busy, as it was, encouragingly, for other UK regions. We all now need to work together to ensure that all of this interest and enthusiasm is harnessed for the benefit of the whole country. At the same event we spoke to Prince Edward, patron of the British Paralympic Association, and we were able to discuss the importance of local authority leisure centres providing opportunities to enable disabled athletes to participate, not least to develop the next generation of Paralympians.
Amongst all of this a highlight was watching Hackney’s own Team GB Paralympic swimmer, Dervis Konuralp, swim in the iconic Water Cube. Dervis works with the council as our Olympic and Paralympic ambassador inspiring people of all ages to get involved in sport and strive to achieve no matter what. It was a privilege to see him swim in Beijing, as well as watching other UK Paralympians compete in goalball and events in the Bird’s Nest.
There are many lessons from Beijing for London as the next host for the Paralympic Games. London must work hard to live up to the commitment to be the most accessible Games host ever and make sure the Paralympic Games from now through to 2012 and beyond raise awareness of disability issues. Beijing 2008 has certainly provided a good foundation from which we should strive to improve.
Kim Wright is corporate director, community services with Hackney Council
The Leisure Review, November 2008
© Copyright of all material on this site is retained by The Leisure Review or the individual contributors where stated. Contact The Leisure Review for details.