It hardly seems possible, that golden summer of sport that brought us all together, some nine years past. Nine years past, yes, but the memories, the stories, the learnings are as rich and as vital today as any day. The Paralympics as much as any of this.
What to say about a Games that achieved so much for so many by so many? I had long since retired from the pool, speedos shrivelled, goggles gone. But here, now, for London 2012, I had the unbelievable opportunity to lead the team that would plan and deliver the Paralympic Games. The first time the Games had been back in Britain since their incredible inception some sixty four years earlier on the lawns out the front of the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville.
How to put on a Paralympic Games that would reflect and respect all of that heritage? To credit that history whilst also being firmly rooted in the modern, in our city and our communities around the park and the venues?
A series of firsts
London 2012 was the first ever Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to be planned, right from the outset in a fully integrated fashion. Right from the start line of the bid we talked about an Olympic Games and Paralympic Games bid. Seems simple, straight forward, but at that point, it had never been done before.
I had so many hopes for the 2012 Games. So many hopes I knew we could more than realize if we built the story, the vision, the mission and got everyone on it, and they did. They were:
- To sell all the tickets, never been done before;
- To have all Olympic sponsors also Paralympic sponsors, never been done before; and,
- To have major broadcast deals right around the world, again, never been done before.
I knew if we could do all this (and more) we could not just shift the dial, we could create a whole new Paralympic paradigm.
Whatever you experienced in the summer of 2012, Olympic and/or Paralympic, know this, none of it was inevitable or a matter of chance. It happened because thousands of individuals from every background, every region of the country, every part of the world came and gave of their best. They came and believed that the vision was possible and they translated that vision into reality.
London 2012 Paralympic Games, every sporting session, every heat, every final packed, every ticket for every session sold, a ticket strategy with accessibility, affordability and revenue generation at its heart. No free tickets, this thing is valuable and worth paying to come and be part of.
Sponsorship and broadcast
Coke and every Olympic sponsor signed up, activated and got fully involved. Great for their brands, great for the Paralympic Games. And that broadcast deal with Channel 4, such promise, such excitement, such understanding in their bid. To do it different, to grasp our vision and what we believed was possible for the Games and to partner with us on that journey. The sport coverage was stunning, who can forget Jonny Peacock, a teenager from the Midlands standing to shush eighty thousand fans at the start of his final, then racing to Paralympic gold, true class. Who can forget Simmonds and all the swimming medals at the pool and the velodrome, the Copper Box and the 5 a side football.
More than that, ground breaking shows such as “The Last Leg”, a completely novel way of approaching things. And the “Meet the Super Humans” promo film, one of the proudest pieces of work I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games had the athletes at its heart, world class sport at world class venues. Spectated by almost three million fans in person, millions more via the coverage on Channel 4 and hundreds of millions right around the world. So many getting into Paralympic sport for the very first time.
More even than that though, to just take a walk through the Paralympic park at Games time, probably the most inclusive environment ever created on planet earth. This is what inclusion can look like, feel like, be like, not barriers, not blockers, problems, pain points. Inclusion, an accessible, an inclusive welcome to the world.
I knew that if we got it right we could not only have a golden summer of Paralympic sport in 2012, we could not only create an inclusive experience for all, if we got it right, potentially, we could fundamentally shift attitudes towards and opportunities for disabled people, for all peoples right around the World. It was that and more that drove me and all of us, everyday, to do, as our HR strategy put it, “the best work of our lives.”
London 2012 Paralympic Games certainly was one moment in time to change things for the better forever. As our Great British Paralympians settle in at Tokyo 2020 they should all take that strength, that heritage, that history and know that they are now the pen holders to write new Paralympic history, new narratives driven through their performances, perspectives and points of view.
Paralympics GB, over to you, the spirit of Guttman, of London 2012 is now in your heads and hearts, feel the fire from it and fly. Channel 4 will be there while we cannot. We will take in every stride, stroke, step towards the sporting stories of Tokyo 2020. Channel 4, doing it different again with every new promo film, every innovation – Channel 4: the nation’s proud Paralympic broadcaster.