Over the course of the following 10 days, more than 4,000 athletes from 150 nations will compete across 471 events for dozens of gold medals. Over two million tickets have already been sold to see records being broken. This massive international event is taking place in London and it is the Paralympics — even more inspiring than the Olympics themselves. Many of the special athletes who will be competing in the Paralympics have extraordinary stories of courage, persistence and achievement.
When the first disability Games were held at Stoke Mandeville, UK, 64 years ago, just 16 ex-servicemen took part. In 2012, when the curtain falls on the Paralympics on September 9, the whole world will have enjoyed a unique international festival of sport.
The Paralympics are not just sport. Britain wants to harness the opportunity that the Games provide to bring about a change in the way people think, feel and behave towards disability across the world. We want to create a more open and inclusive society and look forward to the day when disabled people play a full role at all levels of society in Pakistan and around the world — from government ministers, parliamentarians, officials and media to industry, academia and civil society. At the British High Commission, my political counsellor is disabled. She is just as good at her job as any of her predecessors.
We want the Games to encourage more disabled people to participate in sports in their local communities. Such encouragement will not only help find the next generation of Paralympians but also demonstrate how sports can enrich lives around the globe. Thousands of young people in Pakistan have been inspired to take part in physical education in the past year following the launch of the British Council’s International Inspirations programme. Pakistan is the 17th country in the world to join this programme and has committed to reach over one million Pakistani children, including disabled children, in two years.
To share in the festivities locally, the British High Commission hosted events to promote and encourage sport across the country and celebrate the Pakistani Paralympian team’s participation in the Games. Delegates from Pakistan Paralympics Committee and the media have participated. Inspired by the national Paralympics team of Pakistan, my colleagues at the British High Commission have worked to help them on their journey to London 2012. Through charity events, we raised Rs215,000 that we presented to the National Paralympics Committee of Pakistan just before the Games.
I had the privilege of meeting many of the Pakistani Paralympians at events held at the British High Commission. I was deeply impressed with their professionalism and competitive instinct. Pakistani Paralympian Haider Ali won Pakistan’s first Paralympic medal by breaking the world record for long jump in the Beijing 2008 Paralympics Games. And Naeem Masih, selected to represent Pakistan in 800m, 1,500m and long jump events, has been performing very well at district level. The people of Pakistan will be very proud of them as they represent their country in Britain. I offer my best wishes to all the Pakistani Paralympians. They have been working hard to prepare for the London 2012 Games.
We hope the Paralympics will help to create a more inclusive world where all members of the community are valued equally. Paralympians play an important role as catalysts for changing the negative perceptions about disability. They show that people with disabilities can achieve great things.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2012.