What the Paralympic Games gave us

I was unsuccessful in my sustained attempts to get tickets for the Olympic Games of London 2012. I finally “settled for second best”, and got tickets to the Paralympic Games some three months ahead of them, and long before there was any indication of the excitement which they would bring. I had made the mistake of assuming that the Olympic Games would somehow be better than the Paralympic Games – big mistake! How wrong I was…

The Paralympic Games were not only spectacularly successful from a competitive perspective; looking beyond the competition results themselves, they gave us so much more.

Neil Crofts recently identified Ten things we have learnt from the Olympics on his excellent Making Mondays Magic blog. Thinking about my own experiences of being at the games, this is how I see it: Continue reading

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We are all different

The Paralympic Games of London 2012 have had a lasting effect on many of us, and much has been written and spoken about the “eye-opening” which we experienced. Many of us have been in complete awe of the competitors – we have watched in disbelief as “disabled” competitors have achieved the unimaginable.

Much has been discussed about prejudice, and how we individually react to disability. In a recent blog post, I suggested that “disability” was too negative a term, and proposed that “differently abled” would be more appropriate. I visited the Paralympic Games myself and was truly amazed by the achievements of these sportsmen and women, and have changed my view on this.

Matt Stutzman, born without arms, won the silver medal in archery at the Paralympic Games. He also holds the Guinness World Record for the longest shot – not by a disabled archer, but by anyone.
Matt Stutzman, archer[Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph, AP]

He said “Around the athletes’ village people keep coming up to me and asking what sport I do. Most reckon I’m a swimmer. One guy thought I did basketball. That’s some idea, a guy with no arms playing basketball. When I say I’m an archer, they say, ‘So how do you shoot the bow?’ I say: ‘With my feet, doesn’t everybody?’Continue reading

Hmmm… Britain’s Got “Talent”

By complete coincidence the very day after my last post, on Hidden (collective) talent, I heard the results of the Britain’s Got Talent competition final, which was won by Ashleigh Butler and her dog Pudsey.  Between them, the duo netted prize money of half a million pounds, and it is easy to imagine even that vast sum being eventually be dwarfed by sponsorship deals over the coming year.

It is not completely clear whether the talent lies with Pudsey (for his unusual dancing abilities) or Miss Butler (for her ability to train the dog).  Either way, the contrast with the talent uncovered in James Whinnery could hardly be starker.  Certainly there are commercial realities involved, but even taking this into consideration, it makes me question what value we place on talent – and actually what we really mean by “talent”.

The Hidden Talent show didn’t appear to be a big budget production.  There was no prize money on the table.  There was no big pay day for the experts involved in developing the latent talent in James – they did it because they love to discover and develop talent. James has clearly gained a great deal personally; viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it, and the experts will have too.

By contrast, Britain’s Got Talent was very much a big budget operation.  The prize money was very significant.  The “experts” (or judges) who selected the winners in each round weren’t doing it for altruistic reasons (rumoured figures vary wildly, but the general consensus seems to be that Simon Cowell earns £20 million for the series, with each of the other judges earning around £200,000).  The winner gained through the prize money, the future value of sponsorships etc.; and as with Hidden Talent, viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it too.

As said, commercial realities cannot be ignored, but somehow this just seems plain wrong.  One could argue all day about the relative entertainment value of a dancing dog, compared to that of discovering latent linguistic talent.  But the point here is that the money seems to be going to the wrong people.  When a dancing dog wins a talent competition, it reminds us that we all enjoy being entertained.  But surely, when set alongside something more worthy, the comparison speaks volumes about what we value.

When there is so much valuable potential in the world, it seems somehow wrong that we can’t see big entertainment value in worthy causes, and that we should therefore give such prominence to trivial and shallow pursuits.