The Cultural Paralympiad
By Roald Bradstock – 26 May 2009
There has been a lot of discussion about the Cultural Olympiad and its importance leading up to and during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – getting people around the country involved in celebrating the 2012 London Games. But there isn’t any mention about the Cultural Paralympiad? You never hear of that, do you?
There is a simple explanation for that – there is no such thing. But maybe there should be. Maybe in 2012, or before, there should be another event added to the calender, a historic first: “The Cultural Paralympiad”. I believe it would help combine the Olympic and Paralympics by making them more “equal” – They are both huge international sporting events and they should have complimentary cultural programmes.
When Dr Ludwig Guttmann began the Paralympics over half a century ago there was no “cultural” component. That was not part of his vision. His mission was to change the lives of spinal cord injury patients using sport as therapy to rehabilitate people back into society. A worthy cause indeed and very successful.
The first “Paralympics” on July 28, 1948, was with 16 paralysed British ex-servicemen and women who competed in an archery tournament on the fields of Stoke. The date was picked deliberately to coincide with the beginning of the 1948 London Olympics.
The Paralympics have grown and evolved over the last 60 years from this humble beginning of one event held miles away in a field to now being a major international competition with a full range of sporting disciplines that are held in the same venues as the Olympics. But the Paralympics are still lagging in worldwide exposure, recognition and acceptance compared to the Olympics.
I believe the time has come to add another event, another component to the Paralympics just as Pierre De Coubertin did with the Olympics. I believe there should be “A Cultural Paralympiad”. Just as there are the Olympics and the Paralympics which are separate events yet together there should be a Cultural Olympiad and a Cultural Paralympiad – again separate events but together.
The 2012 London Cultural Olympiad was officially launched last September at the Tate Britain Gallery in London with the unveiling of a piece of artwork titled “No 850” created by 2001 Turner Prize winner Martin Creed. The art work, was a series of athletes running through the gallery one at a time as fast as they could every 30 seconds for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday for four months. The first hour of “No 850” was reserved for Britain’s greatest Olympic athletes: Sebastian Coe, Johnathan Edwards, Kelly Holmes just to name a few. It was an impressive event and wonderful setting. There were camera crews, photographers, journalist milling around watching, filming, photographing and interviewing the athletes and the artist. But as I looked around I noticed something: There was not a single Paralympic athlete in “the piece” or even watching as far as I could tell. Was this an oversight, a mistake, a glaring omission or was this a very clever move, intentionally done to create debate and controversy.
What is absent, deleted, covered up or hidden can make more of a statement sometimes then presenting the obvious. The word inclusion is often mentioned with regard 2012 and the activities leading up to the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. Was Martin Creed’s way of including the “paralympians” in his Tate piece by excluding them? If he had included them it could have been perceived as succumbing to public pressure and being politically correct. Or was it a very clever way of creating some controversy and debate – something he is not adverse to seeking and getting. Whatever the reason the absence of Paralympians got my attention.
A light bulb came on in my head and stayed on. I could see clearly now what needs to happen for real equality with the Olympics and Paralympics. There needs to be a Cultural Paralympiad to give the opportunity for the disabled to get involved. They should have their own platform so that in the end as many people as possible can be involved – can be “included”.
There should be art exhibitions and competitions around the country that would be just for people with disabilities to enter and show their work. And just as in the Paralympics their work would be divided up into categories depending on the degree of their disability.
Part of the mission of the Cultural Paralympiad would be to promote “Paralympics Sports” and for it to become a recognised subject matter for artistic interpretation and investigation, just as still lives, landscapes and portraits are.
The Paralympics and Paralympic sports give the disabled athlete a valuable outlet to play sports, to compete and to live a full physically healthy life. For some, the best, the most athletic, the most competitive that journey will take them to the Paralympic Games and maybe even a medal.
A Cultural Paralympiad would give the non-athletic disabled person an outlet for their creativity, expression and personal growth. It would create an opportunity for the disabled people to celebrate their life, their spirit and get involved in the build up to 2012 and the Paralympics through participating in cultural activities for them.
England was the country that inspired the modern Olympics and England is the birth place of the Paralympics. I believe the time has come and the need is there to have “A Cutural Paralympiad” and what better place to launch it than in the United Kingdom?