The most prominent description used by the British media to describe the atmosphere that London has experienced since late July was that of a “summer of love”, in reference to the positive impact this atmosphere has had on British morale over a period of six golden weeks.
Tens of millions followed these events, and not just the glitzy opening and closing ceremonies, but also the competitions themselves. With passion and enthusiasm they watched the athletes of the world compete in all kinds of sports, some winning medals and others receiving the honor of participating and competing in the most significant global sporting event, which aims to promote a culture of understanding, tolerance and global peace.
To coincide with the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, the outgoing head of the British Equalities and Human Rights Commission wrote a letter to his staff, quoted in The Guardian, in which he said that a “decade of hard work has created a country more tolerant than ever before”. He suggested that the golden six week period of the Olympics and Paralympics has made a significant contribution towards strengthening the spirit of tolerance and understanding.
The Olympics were amazing in terms of the organization, preparation, competition and public interest, but the Paralympics were even more stunning given the public attention it received and the audience’s enthusiasm for the athletes. In the words of one commentator, this was a moment of education for the people of Britain regarding the complex and thorny subject of those with physical disabilities and how society deals with them. Tens of millions watched and supported athletes in wheelchairs, or with prosthetic limbs, or other physical disabilities, who became global stars competing on the racetrack, in the swimming pool, and even in the violent sport of wheelchair rugby.
The audience was the real hero as the Paralympics produced record ticket sales, with 2.7 million tickets being sold for various competitions and high demand making it difficult to attend some events, and with revenues amounting to £45 million. These are record numbers compared to the ticket sales for the Paralympics four years earlier in Beijing, where 1.8 million tickets were sold and television ratings reached a peak of 6.3 million viewers during the athletics finals.
These Paralympic Games were an inspiration to many, in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
This global tournament, with over 4,200 athletes attending from 164 countries, has contributed to increasing public awareness and interest in those with disabilities. The audience interacted with these athletes in the same way as they interacted with the Olympic competitors before them, but this awareness did not come as the result of one tournament or event, regardless of the amount of inspiration it has provided. Rather, this is the result of decades of hard work at community and government level to increase disability awareness and provide facilities that suit the requirements of those with disabilities to enable them to participate in their community.
Several Arab countries participated in the Paralympics and won gold, silver and bronze medals that far exceeded the achievements of the Arab athletes who competed in the Olympics before them. This should be a source of inspiration for the Arabs to work hard at community and government level, and draw society’s attention and awareness to the fact that a significant percentage (between 5 and 10 percent) of the population have special needs. More facilities and services should be made available for them, whether in terms of public amenities, transportation or employment, so that society can truly benefit from their potential.