‘It would be rude not to stare’ say the billboards.
‘To be a Paralympian, there has to be something wrong with you’, say the adverts.
Channel 4 are taking us back to Tokyo on 24th August – 5th September for the Paralympics and it’s the biggest show yet.
People with disabilities have been taking part in the Olympics since the 1948 London Olympics. German-British neurologist Dr. Guttmann started the Stoke Mandeville Games, that included ex-service men and women taking part in an archery competition.
The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome in 1960. Featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries, and has happened every four years since.
Kate Clayton is Channel 4’s Paralympic Games Executive, she spoke to us about the process that has gone into ensuring that 70% of the presenters for the 2021 Paralympic Games have disabilities, including Scot Robyn Love who is participating in wheelchair basketball in Tokyo, and why Channel 4 have committed to ‘over 1,300 hours of coverage’. Also how they’ve introduced 16 individual live streams online for all-around coverage for The Games and dedicated an entire channel to constant coverage from Tokyo.
“Channel 4’s remit has always been to champion unheard voices, to innovate and take bold creative risks, to inspire change and to celebrate diversity. The Paralympic Games embody everything that we stand for. We see the Paralympic Games as a huge opportunity to challenge stereotypes and champion minorities by bringing disability into the mainstream – and to do it with style and a sense of fun. We can reach new and bigger audiences with high quality, dramatic, elite sport”, says Kate.
The introduction of The Last Leg to Channel 4’s late night lineup in light of the 2012 London Olympics allowed Channel 4 to “approach disability head on, and believed a concept of merging entertainment and sport would provide a strong platform for us to do this.” The Last Leg continues, in its own right to be a weekly comedy show, featuring amputee Adam Hills, Alex Brooker, who was born with arm and hand deformities. Alongside them is, able-bodied Josh Widdicombe. Watchers of the show can get excited for the return, as it will be on our TV’s every night during the Paralympics.
Post-2012 Olympics, research showed that ‘83% of viewers agreed that Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics improved society’s attitude towards people with an impairment, while 64% of viewers felt more positive towards people with a disability.’, said Kate.
“Disability became a mainstream topic of interest in the media, with admiration displacing sympathy and pity.”
Before the 2012 Paralympics, the Channel 4 team had the odds stacked against them. Only 14% of people were excited for the Paralympics.
So they came up with the ‘Meet the Super Humans’ campaign. This was to be the biggest campaign in Channel 4’s history: “the centrepiece was a hard-hitting and ‘goosebump-inducing’ 90-second TV commercial, showcasing our extraordinary British Paralympian athletes. Aired concurrently across 78 different UK channels at 9 pm, it was viewed by 86% of the UK population. As the Olympics came to a close, we also ran a cheeky ‘Thanks for the Warm-up’ poster campaign, making it clear that the Paralympic Games aren’t an afterthought but are as exciting, thrilling and culturally important as the Olympics.”
Working with the charity Scope, Channel 4 have put together this years coverage for the games to ensure its the best yet. The Paralympics have now become a listed event. Meaning that they must be shown for free on Television. This was a huge step as it put the Paralympics on equal footing with the Olympic Games.
James Taylor, Executive Director of strategy at Scope, said: “After the devastating impact of the pandemic on disabled people, we believe this is the most important Paralympics ever for disability equality. Seeing disabled people represented on screen helps break down stigma and tackle discrimination. Channel 4’s commitment to disability equality and to making the Games a major cultural moment is vital in shifting attitudes,
“It’s great that this year’s bold campaign has been created with the athletes’ stories at its heart. It shows them as elite competitors, making huge personal sacrifices to compete at the top level of their sport, but also as disabled people who continue to face discrimination in their daily life. Ultimately we will not have true equality until all disabled people are represented across all areas of life,
“We believe the Paralympics and surrounding coverage can be a catalyst for that, by sparking discussions about disability and bringing disabled people’s lives to the forefront.”
With more Paralympic GB athletes becoming household names, like Libby Clegg, Toni Shaw, Gordon Reid and Sammi Kinghorn and coverage of Para-sports on mainstream channels, profiles of the athletes and the sports are being exposed to a wider audience.
“At London 2012 at the Paralympics, Channel 4 lead the way, delivering over 150 hours of coverage of the Games. More broadcasts were beamed to over 100 countries, reaching a cumulative audience of 3.8 billion people. For me, that was a life-changing moment.” Said Michael McEwan, host of The Locker Room in Indy Radio, Journalist and Disability Sports Campaigner in TFN.
Audiences are showing more and more interest in Para Sports, and putting these into mainstream media only increases the profiles of Sports People taking part. Channel 4 have set extremely high standards for themselves that year on year so far, they have exceeded. With stats coming out that 74 per cent of 12-16-year-olds now felt more comfortable talking about disabilities, the hope for future generations to be more inclusive and celebrate diversity without a second thought is looking promising.
The finishing line is in sight for a bright future ensuring Para Sports are in the lead.
We spoke to Gavin MacLeod, CEO of Scottish Disability sport who took the opportunity on behalf of everyone at Scottish Disability Sport, to wish the 33 Scots selected to the Paralympics GB team every success for the forthcoming Tokyo Summer Paralympic Games. He said: “We are fortunate to have an outstanding group of inspirational Scottish athletes, who have worked so hard during difficult times to reach the pinnacle of their sport. We will be tuned in and cheering you all the way”.
We will all be joining them.