I’m somewhat ashamed to say that following the London Olympics in 2012 I was relieved to turn my TV back to my normal viewing and didn’t give a second thought to the Paralympics. It wasn’t that I didn’t care as such, or that I didn’t think the talents of these athletes needed support, it was just that it didn’t really register with me.
This year, however, is a totally different situation and much of it, I believe, is down to The Last Leg and Claire Balding. I make no secret of the fact that I love The Last Leg, it is one of few programmes that can effectively debate really serious global issues with humour, and Claire Blading is a great example of a presenter that manages to be both professional and personable while having an edge.
I also commend Claire for providing some continuity as she chose to go from presenting the Olympic Games to the Paralympic Games despite the channel change – I’m sure a pay cheque was involved along the way, but it has given further credibility to the coverage none-the-less.
Thanks to the way in which Channel 4 have taken the Paralympics, added some personality and made it a ‘must watch’, for the first time that I can remember people are discussing how many medals we have won and sharing details of the athletes that are competing each day.
Jonny Vegas may not have been an obvious choice where athletics and elite sportsmen and women are concerned but he’s added a comedy to the Games that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. Nominated to get the crowds going, he has shown his stomach painted as a Union Jack, handed out shower caps and screamed with delight throughout each event.
What better way to champion our Paralympic athletes than by celebrating in the only way he knows how – with real gusto! Like a true Brit on tour, he’s had people chanting, singing and dancing and it hasn’t always been in support of England with him cheering on Jamaica despite them turning in a less than medal winning performance.
And perhaps that’s part of the appeal. The Paralympic Games aren’t taking themselves too seriously. It’s not that the athletes don’t deserve the commendation or the support they have received – quite the opposite in fact – but what has become apparent is that these sportsmen and women have personalities and they are ‘real people’ beyond their chosen events.
Like any athletes they have dedicated their lives to training, they are elite, they are the best, they are of a gold winning standard but they are also husbands, wives, sons, daughters, dads, mothers and friends.
I would like to think that what Channel 4 have successfully done is two-fold; they have raised the profile of the Paralympic Games to a mass market, allowing people to feel involved and showcasing how inclusive it can be – something that I feel has previously been notable in its absence – and they have created opportunities for these athletes to secure sponsorship from brands, an essential consideration for their future careers.
For once, I can see Paralympic athletes being just as appealing to brands as Olympians and rightly so. If you work hard to become the best and you dedicate your life to taking part in a tournament that will see you represent your country you deserve something back.
So, which brands will be the first to take to the podium and to give something back to these amazing individuals? Who knows, we might even have a sports personality of the year within the Paralympic Team GB. Let’s be honest, much stranger things have happened.