The Paralympic Games ended last night, the curtain coming down on a summer of London 2012 that has thrilled, inspired and changed the way in which many people might view aspects of the world around us.
The Olympics themselves have always had great power. Nations coming together, led by individuals who have raised our hearts and fulfilled goals set in their own personal history. From Berlin to Sydney, Munich to Beijing they have left an indelible memory of sport that is perhaps stronger for taking place only once every four years.
The Paralympics on the other hand have been, until now, as the title suggests, a parallel event, after the main event and seen by most as a way to keep the sprits high but not at nearly the same level.
London changed that for the Paralympics. The Games themselves were born at Stoke Mandeville hospital. A means of motivating those who had lost limbs or had the physical aspect of their lives changed utterly by war. They grew, building support from the IOC and the community of nations but remaining on the sidelines. Respected as a great achievement but not yet reaching into the heart and soul of those who watched or followed.
The Paralympic Games of London 2012 have moved them onto an equal level. They can no longer be seen as games of disability, but rather of great ability.
In speeches and commentary over the past 12 days we have been asked to change our view of disabled people. In fact these games have changed our view of what it means to be human.
Every day we see examples of the worst of mankind. Sport this summer, and especially in the Paralympics has given us the best. It may take another generation to change the way in which a man without an arm or a women without the use of her legs is seen but through the eyes of children that have watched these games the prosthetic or the wheelchair is just a part of what they are, no more defining of their spirit than a cloak or the colour of their skin.
Ireland can be proud of the central part it has played at these games. The hope of three gold medals became the reality of eight. Three silver and five bronze were added to the mix and we finished in the top 20 of the world in the medal table. Michael McKillop’s medal presentation by his mother brought tears around the world and the journey back by Mark Rohan from what most would see as catastrophic injury places ‘bouncing back’ on a whole new level.
Our achievements and the Games themselves could not happen without the involvement of business through partnerships that are decided in cold boardrooms but which come to life in the white heat of competition.
As a debate raged on twitter last night about Channel 4 breaking for advertising, Setanta Sports in Ireland chose to apply a border for their enabler Allianz, thus allowing uninterrupted live coverage. The phrase the ads led with was ‘believe in yourself’ and Allianz will record a significant increase in sentiment and revenue as a result of the part it has played in bringing these games into our homes.
We spoke last night to Patrick Haslett, Partnership Manager for Paralympics Ireland who revealed that they had hosted 40 of their commercial and sporting partners at key moments in London.
“It was a chance to bring them close to the great achievement that Paralympic Sport embodies.”
“There were shared experiences that will never be forgotten, and the games have immeasurably strengthened the Paralympic ‘family’ of athletes and those without whose commercial support, theses dreams could not have been turned to reality.”
The road to Rio has already begun and we believe we are in a good place to engage with sponsors for another round and place Paralympic sport in the place it deserves to be.
Tonight the athletes will return to a hero’s welcome at Dublin Airport. In October, Cadbury has already committed to supporting a talent identification day when people with disability can step forward in sport to see if they could emulate Mark Rohan who discovered Paralympic sport only after Beijing.
Funding is essential in how the foundations of London can grow. Government must play its part but so too must the commercial world. Sport has a power to touch lives and to change them for the better. To be associated with such achievement is beyond the confines of what would be seen as regular marketing spend and must surely deliver more than expected in terms of a company’s perception of itself, in how it is seen by others and in its appeal to those who it needs to engage.
After the games we should not be sad at their passing. Rather we should be inspired to do what we can, in our own small way to ensure we can be the best we can at whatever we do. That applies in life, in sport and in business. As the closing light show last night said, “Thank you London.”