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As the Tokyo Paralympics draw to a close and the focus shifts to Paris 2024, France is looking for inspiration for the so-called “British model” that made the Games successful.
Team GB is once again at the top of the medal tables in Tokyo and is only behind China in terms of gold.
And the London Paralympics are widely cited as the benchmark for the largest international event in parasports.
“We all took note of the success of London 2012. It was a real turning point,” said Tony Estanguet, President of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee.
“We got to know their teams and we continue to work with them,” he told AFP, adding that during the 2012 Olympics he spoke with his counterpart Sebastian Coe, who now heads World Athletics, in London.
“Their success was based on very strong communication,” says Estanguet, citing both the organizing committee’s efforts and the advertising campaign of the Paralympic channel Channel 4.
The British broadcaster launched its Paralympic campaign after the Olympic Games under the slogan “Thank you for the warm-up” in order to uncompromisingly celebrate the athletic skills of the Paralympists.
And it has run award-winning television commercials for the Paralympics under the theme “Meet the Superhumans”.
“The investment Channel 4 has made in us has shown the disability in a really positive way,” British sprinter Libby Clegg told AFP.
The two-time Rio silver medalist started her Paralympic career in Beijing in 2008 and has seen the Paralympics evolve in coverage and focus.
“It was great for us as disabled people, especially in the UK. It’s great to see this coverage continue, ”she said.
– British Paralympic History –
And it’s not just British athletes who see it that way. The French judoka and the standard-bearer of the Tokyo Games, Sandrine Martinet, remember the famous overcrowded grandstands in London as a turning point.
“Culturally, we felt that the atmosphere in London was different. Something happened during these games.”
Estanguet writes “a really strong approach to ticketing based on the school audience that worked really well.”
And communication, advertising and ticketing made a noticeable difference: while in 2010 only 18 percent of the British were able to name a Paralympic, at the end of the 2012 Games it was 41 percent.
Interest in the Paralympics and medal success go hand in hand for Great Britain, which in the last 20 years only occupied third place in the medal table and only slipped below second place once.
The Paralympics have a particularly British history as they were invented in Stoke Mandeville, UK, which hosted the Games’ first forerunner in 1948.
But the British have not rested on their laurels either and have been able to maintain their position, even if other countries are improving.
This has contributed to the professionalization of the games.
“You can’t win a medal here if you train two or three times a week,” emphasizes the German long jumper Markus Rehm.
“That has changed.”
– ‘work to do’ –
One of the characteristics of the British model was the integration of disabled athletes into the associations responsible for each sport.
France started doing this in December 2016 following a decree by the Ministry of Sports.
“We want to do sport together,” said Sophie Cluzel, French State Secretary for people with disabilities.
But Stephane Houdet, France’s other standard bearer for the Tokyo Paralympics and wheelchair tennis player, believes his country is “still at the beginning”.
“The Olympic delegation came with 24 employees, we have three,” he told AFP.
“We don’t have a physio or doctor,” he added.
“We still have work to do.”
Cyclist Francois Pervis came to parasport as a sighted pilot who worked with the visually impaired Paralympic Raphael Beaugillet and says the British model is showing clear results at the Games.
“They put disabled sports on the same level as non-disabled sports. They share the training grounds in the national velodrome,” he said.
“If we asked, they’d laugh in our faces.”
© 2021 AFP