Chris Holmes: Paralympic inspiration will be catalyst for change
By Chris Holmes - 28 August 2009
I was 16 when I went to my first Paralympic Games in Seoul, 1988, as a member of the swimming team and it really was an unbelievable experience.
By the time I left, with two silver medals tucked in my bag, I’d been lucky enough to compete in front of 10,000 fans and rubbed shoulders with athletes from more than 100 countries in the Paralympic Village.
That event, so early in my career, expanded my horizons like nothing else had ever done before.
That’s because the Paralympic Games has the ability to create lasting change for athletes and spectators alike.
Now, in my new role as Director of Paralympic Integration for the London 2012 Organising Committee, I intend to focus on the importance of this unique, and uplifting, event by setting myself three main goals.
First, I want the country to celebrate the cultural and historical significance of the second biggest sporting event in the world.
The Paralympic Games are different, and rightly so.
Achieving this means ensuring better awareness, knowledge and understanding of all 20 sports in the Games, not just the obvious ones like swimming and athletics.
This will involve better education on our part as well as enlisting the help of the media so spectators are better informed. Once that’s happened it will mean the skill and dexterity of elite level disability sport will be clearer. And that will make watching Paralympic sport more interesting and exciting whether at home on the TV or sitting in one of the many 2012 competition venues.
It also means making sure we explain the classification system in a simple, clear way. This is the system used in Paralympic competition to determine a competitor’s level of disability and to ensure a level playing field for all.
It’s a bit like boxing really. You wouldn’t put junior-welterweight Ricky Hatton up against super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe. It’s no different in disability sport. It has to be a fair contest.
Second, I want to ensure every disabled child is inspired enough to get involved in, and has access to, the same sporting opportunities in schools that non-disabled children have.
Achieving this aim will require the help of some of our existing Paralympic heroes, like swimmer Ellie Simmonds and cyclist Darren Kenny (pictured) who continue to be inspirational and affable role models. We also need co-operation from schools and PE teachers who will need to learn, and embrace, teaching sport to kids with a variety of disabilities.
And finally I want sports coaches and clubs to be confident enough to include all disabled young people in community sports activities in the same way non-disabled kids are.
Reaching this goal will mean working creatively with a variety of partners across sport and education as well as making sports facilities truly accessible, both practically and from a welcoming point of view, to the disabled community.
This is an opportunity that’s not going to come around again in my lifetime which is why there is much to do in the next three years.
The London Paralympic Games of 2012 will, undoubtedly, be inspirational but we will have failed if we don’t go beyond that to create more opportunities for disabled kids.
It’s not the responsibility of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to change everything but it can be a powerful catalyst to get the ball rolling, just as Seoul in 1988 started to change life for me.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be a defining moment for the disabled community in this country. Along with my colleagues I intend to do all that I can to ensure a brighter future for disabled people in this country.
Chris Holmes is the new Director of Paralympic Integration for the London 2012 Organising Committee. He won nine Paralympic gold medals at four Paralypic Games including six at Barcelona in 1992, a feat never equalled by another British Paralympian. He was awarded an MBE for services to British sport in 1992. He is also a Patron of ‘Help for Heroes’ and a Patron of the British Paralympic Association.