Now that the Olympics and Paralympics in Athens have closed, I would like to congratulate the Greeks on an excellent games. I am particularly happy at the way things have turned out as I was getting pretty fed up in the run up to the Olympics with the constant criticisms. I don’t think I have ever heard such stick aimed at the organization of the games in previous years, and I didn’t think it was fair. I am sure every city which tries to organise such a logistical task will encounter some problems, but from the start it almost seemed as if people expected and wanted Athens to fail, based on the prejudiced stereotypical image of the Greeks’ lack of organization. You would have thought that the Greek football team’s success in Euro 2004, surely a triumph of organization over ability, would have had people thinking twice, but all the way up to the Olympics we heard story after story about Athens’ lack of preparedness. That these have almost all turned out to be unfounded must give the organisers great pleasure.
In relation to the Paralympics in particular I was somewhat mystified by the Daily Mail’s front page comment the other day, questioning whether or not the BBC should be covering these “athletes” sports. Their quotation marks. David Thomas in the Telegraph made the same point. I imagine they may have changed their tune somewhat as the medals have piled in for the British team, but why shouldn’t the BBC or anyone else cover these sports? Paralympians are surely every bit as dedicated as their able bodies colleagues. In some cases, for example Basketball, I find the disabled version is a much better spectacle. There may not be the same audience for the Paralympics, and that is reflected in the lower profile it receives, but we are still seeing the top athletes in the world competing in their chosen sports; and in many cases they are more clearly sports than the sort of thing that passes for sport in the Olympics (synchronized swimming always springs unfairly to mind here). Thomas states we do not engage with Paralympians in the way we get worked up over able-bodied competition; but I cannot say I was exactly on the edge of my seat when the British yacht crews brought home the Gold medal. Of course, being the fastest person in the T5 wheelchair sprint does not have the same cache as the winner of the 100 metre sprint being the fastest person ever, but we don’t dismiss Kelly Holmes fantastic achievement on the grounds that she is only a woman, and the male runners would have hammered her in a straight race. And as for watching sport just to see the finest athletes, if I went to the City of Manchester Stadium every other week expecting to watch the best football team in the world, I would be very disappointed. (Actually, I did last week, but only because we were playing Arsenal).
The Daily Mail view is one that NBC appears to have echoed in the United States. From having 300 journalists in Athens for the Olympics, they have had not one for the Paralympics. Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, thinks this will count against New York’s bid for the 2012 Olympics. This may well be a bit harsh on the New York bid team; I doubt they have much say on the scheduling policy of NBC. Unfortunately, the last time the games were in the US, in Atlanta, the Paralympics were widely considered a disaster. According to Tanni Grey-Thompson in an interview with Des Lynam last week, the organisers had no interest in the Paralympic Games at all; in fact half the facilities from the Olympics had been packed up by the time the Paralympics were underway, and there were barely any spectators. New York’s bid should be judged on it’s own merits, not based on the actions of NBC or the Atlanta organisers, but all the bidding cities’ plans for the Paralympics should play a part in the decision making. You wouldn’t expect a city which was not interested in the Olympics to be awarded the games, and so, I feel, should it be with the Paralympics.
However, if Caborn is right and this does affect New York’s bid, then it is obviously great news for London. Now we just need someone from Paris, Madrid and Moscow to similarly balls up and the games will be ours for the taking.