Saturday, 1 September 2012

At the paralympics

At the end of July, I posted about having seen some Olympic and Paralympic tickets. As events turned out, I was able to use one of them yesterday to attend Day 2 of the Paralympics. I went with my sister and five of her children (child 6 was at the Excel with friend for the day, watching Judo).

It was cool to start with - fleeces and coats - but warmed up during the day. The tickets enabled us to see the first two games of the blind 5-a-side football, and then acted as a day pass to other events for the rest of the day. After lunch at the "American Church" (= McDonalds) we used them to watch some wheel chair basketball. By lunch time, the Olympic Park was busy - very busy - with all ages, but a noticeable presence of families.

 It was very moving to see such a huge response to disabled sport. As one commentator I heard said on the radio a day or two before the paralympics started, you very quickly started watching the sport precisely as sport, rather than as it being a disabled form of the sport. That the athletics stadium was full to capacity for an evening session on Day 2 also sent a very moving message.

The 5-a-side court during a warm up. Here, silence during play was of the essence, since the unsighted outfield players depend on shouted instructions from a sighted goalkeeper and attack guide, and on hearing the rattle in the ball.

The basket ball arena during women's wheel chair basketball. Here, the opposite was true, with noise being of the essence. The game we saw did not involve Team GB, but every time the announcer asked who was cheering for Germany or who was cheering for the USA, the whole arena roared equally for both sides.
A view of the Live at the Park mid-afternoon - the top of the large screen is just visible above the line of trees at the centre of this photograph. You can see a full bank of people watching the screen from the opposite side of the river, but cannot see the crowd on the nearside bank, behind the trees at the left also watching from the other side. The athletics stadium and orbit visible in the background
In both the arenas we visited, announcers were very good at explaining some of the specific aspects and rules of the sport. This was particularly true of the 5-a-side football, where the idea of "Let them hear, hold your cheer" was quite important. And in the basketball arena, there was non-stop entertainment by way of little games with audience members during breaks in play.
I did read rather quickly and in passing some comment in the print media to the effect that we should not take the disabled athletes as having an experience typical of disabled people, the athletes being people of exceptional commitment and ability, and perhaps having had access to exceptional opportunities. But what struck me from listening to Stacy James on Radio 2, and again yesterday, was that hope is not one sided. Hope is engendered, not by the disabled person alone and not by the able bodied person alone. It is engendered between the two together. Well over one hundred thousand people enjoyed a brilliant day out yesterday, a gift to them from the disabled athletes involved; but it must have been quite something for disabled athletes to compete before such large crowds yesterday.
There are many other people whose disabilities (or illnesses) mean that participation in sport is not a possibility for them. But why cannot they take the model of hope offered by the paralympic athletes and the crowds supporting them as a model for themselves, and seek to build the hope between and among themselves that was demonstrated so amply yesterday? And should not society as a whole recognise its responsibility to adopt attitudes of hope towards and alongside those suffering from illness and incapacity and to reject once and for all the language of a "life not worth living"? Most of yesterday's athletes will have had not the slightest inkling of the extent to which they offered a gift to individuals who they will never know and never meet.

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