“Every Olympiad since 1960 has gone over budget and … the average overrun, at 179%, was worse than for any other kind of mega-project.”
The Economist, 21 July 2012, quoting Flyvbjerg and Stewart,
Saïd School of Business, Oxford University
That’s as maybe. But watching the London 2012 Olympics, and now the Paralympics, I find that, as a taxpayer, I am no longer annoyed by the huge overspend and indebtedness that two successive British governments have inflicted in this cause on behalf of my generation and the next. It is worth it.
How can you put a price on the sight of the world’s youth coming together in friendly competition? The delight on the faces of people from countries that most Britons may know because of war and disaster but many could not find in an atlas?
I write these words just after watching the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, giving my eyes only two weeks to recover from almost non-stop viewing of the Olympics. The first spectacle was brilliant, wonderful, inspiring. This one is … words almost fail me.
I must declare an interest. I live only ten miles from Stoke Mandeville, where in 1948 the forerunner of the Paralympics took place thanks to an exiled German Jewish doctor who could see beyond the limits imposed on the disabled by that generation’s prejudices. Tonight’s emotive words by Stephen Hawking (through his other-worldly American voice box) and Ian McKellen – seizing the opportunity to subtly promote another anti-discrimination agenda – brought into sharp, real focus what the Paralympics are all about.
Disabled people are the same as the rest of us.
Oscar Pistorius is the poster child of this judgement. The South African sprinter is the first person to compete in track-and-field events at both the Olympics and the Paralympics. But his achievement goes way beyond the world of sport.
In my lifetime, society’s attitude to the disabled has gone from “What’s wrong with them?” (1950s), through “What’s different about them?” (1970s) to today’s “What’s special about them?”
This isn’t just about semantics. The London Paralympics put the spotlight on a welcome and distinct change in attitudes. When Paralympic commentators talk about “celebrating” disability it might be a step too far for some people. But I doubt that anybody would disagree that the world has a much more positive and inclusive view of the disabled than only a few years ago.
Even a taxpayer can’t complain about that.