Sport has the power to inspire, it makes us believe more is possible, that we can do anything. However when sports become more professional there is a danger that what made them great, what connected the fans to the sport, the stars and the stories, can get lost.
Throughout sporting history there have been ‘everyman’ heroes, Eddie the Eagle, the Jamaican Bobsleigh team and more recently Jamie Vardy, who the average human can look up to, to inspire and give us heart that we may not be able to win, we may not be the best but we can sure as hell compete or that there’s always still time to achieve our dreams.
The Paralympic Games embodies this more than any other modern event. Fans can still feel a connection with what they are witnessing, they sense the emotion that goes into each performance and appreciate the journey that every athlete has taken.
Competitors speak honestly, it can be raw and the achievement of just competing is understood by the crowd, but there is a sense the sport is moving forward.
Medal tables are taking on greater importance, targets are set, funding is improved and the sport progresses in competitiveness each event. It’s amazing to see the sport swelling with new athletes, but this creates its own problems. With success comes sponsorship and with sponsorship comes the pressure to succeed. This pressure can detach athletes from what made the sport attractive in the first place. Money creates opportunity and awareness if used in the right way but it can be divisive.
I’ve been on the ground in Rio for just over a week and from the opening ceremony to the first media briefing I get the sense that everyone is keenly aware of the need to keep the Paralympic ideals, but it will be an interesting few years.
The Paralympics is a transformational event not just for the competitors, but for the crowd too. Let’s hope the Paralympics can keep it’s accessibility and identity in the face of professionalism. It was created to give people the chance to say ‘Yes I Can’, and we should strive to maintain that.