Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke at the International Paralympic Inclusion Summit on 6 September.
It gives me great pleasure to join you here at the International Paralympic Inclusion Summit. I would like to thank the World Academy of Sport and the International Olympic Committee for organising this conference which builds on the work that was started in Vancouver in 2010.
You are here over the next two days to discuss inclusion and accessibility, what impact that has upon society, and how sporting events such as the Paralympic Games can act as an inspiration and catalyst for change.
In this speech I want to talk about how the British Government has approached the Olympics and Paralympics and how we have tried to make them the most universally welcoming and all-embracing Games and, hopefully, change people’s perceptions in the future.
Whilst I don’t have your level of expertise, the subject of inclusion is one that is very close to my heart. I have been fortunate enough to have had a long and rewarding career in politics, but, without doubt the proudest moment of my political career has been designing, writing and taking through Parliament, the Disability Discrimination Act.
The Act, which gained Royal Assent in 1995, departed from the fundamental principles of UK discrimination law that had gone before it and made it a requirement for an employer to stop arbitrary discrimination against disabled people and to meet the reasonable requirements to enable a disabled person to carry out a job. For the first time the onus was on the employer to accommodate the needs of the individual rather than the other way around and to make sure that everyone was on an equal footing in the way that they are treated.
I am proud that in Britain, across all political parties, and as a whole nation, we have always been a trailblazer for the rights of disabled people. In 1970 the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was a global first in recognising and giving rights to disabled people.
And the Paralympic Games has a history that is closely tied to the United Kingdom. The first ever disability sports event took place in 1948 in Stoke Mandeville and took place concurrently with the Summer Olympics being hosted in London that year.
When, just over seven years ago, we discovered that London had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we wanted to make sure that we were able to continue that proud history of addressing disability issues and supporting the extraordinary talent of the Paralympians.
I believe that the achievements of the athletes over the last week have altered people’s perceptions of disability and of the Paralympics itself; not an adjunct to the Olympics, but a huge and spectacular sporting event in its own right; massive crowds, wall-to-wall coverage and captivating competition.
There have been spell-binding moments from athletes throughout the Paralympics such as phenomenal performances in the pool from Ellie Simmonds; Dave Clarke adding to his tally of more than 120 international goals in the blind five-a-side football; and David Weir who has cemented his position as one of the best wheelchair athletes in the world.
This completes a month and a half that has been a time of enthusiastic celebration for the United Kingdom and for nations around the globe. We have seen some incredible sport; Usain Bolt in the sprints, Mo Farah’s memorable double gold in the long-distance events, Ben Ainslie becoming the greatest Olympic sailor of all-time and Chris Hoy Britain’s greatest ever Olympian I have been particularly impressed by the performance of athletes from my home county of Yorkshire, who, if they were an independent nation, would have finished 12th in the overall medal table.
Whilst the Games have been impressive, we wanted to make sure that, whilst sporting memories fade, their visit to London would bring a change that would last in perpetuity. After all that time spent on meticulous preparation and planning, in less than a week’s time the Games will be closing and the last competitors heading home.
In my capacity as Foreign Secretary I have spent a great deal of time involved in the lead up to the Games. We welcomed the Heads of State and Government from over 120 different countries to London and helped the smooth transit of more than 15,000 competitors and 10,000 officials; an immense logistical endeavour and a challenge which all departments across Government have risen to meet.
Whilst some may feel that once the decorations have come down and the volunteers have gone back to their normal lives it will signal the end of the Games, it was always our intention that it would instead mark the beginning.
As part of our bid for the 2012 Games, we always wanted to ensure that, whilst there would be a fantastic 26 days of sport, we would also create a legacy that would last a lifetime.
First, we wished to create an economic legacy. Over the course of the Olympics, this venue, Lancaster House, has been transformed into the British Business Embassy. It is hosting a number of themed events throughout the Games to display all that is Great about British business, whether design, or entrepreneurialism; technology or innovation.
Second, on top of our Government’s financial and political commitment to conflict prevention and poverty reduction, we decided to mobilise the ideals of the Olympic Truce; development, participation and education, to bring a diverse range of people together. We set the first world record of these Olympic Games in October last year, when we managed to get all 193 Member States of the United Nations to co-sponsor our Olympic Truce Resolution -the first time this has been achieved.
Here in the United Kingdom, LOCOG have managed to bring the ideals of the Olympic Truce to more than 20,000 schools though their ambitious ‘Get Set’ programme.
Internationally we sought ways to use our diplomatic network - one of the largest in the world - to bring people together from all parts of society including governments, international organisations, opposing parties, ex combatants, women, disabled people, politicians, the young and the old. From Thailand to Sri Lanka we have created events and projects that bring people together under the banner of the Olympics.
Third, and the aspect of the legacy that I am going to focus on today, is sharing our values with the world and celebrate our unique and diverse nation.
We have already managed to celebrate that inclusive spirit and diversity. The London Olympics has won the epithet of the ‘Women’s Games’. Nearly 5,000 female athletes took part in the Games and for the first time there were female representatives from every Olympic nation. Whilst the Saudi runner Sarah Attar may not have won a medal, her achievement in challenging the cultural barriers that many women face is an inspiring one.
For the first time we had a Games where women were represented in more sports than men, with synchronised swimming the only sport in which one gender could take part. Whilst some may have questioned the decision to include women’s boxing, after watching Nicola Adams, and other women boxers win gold, few would have failed to have been impressed by the athleticism, skill and fitness on display.
During the Stoke Mandeville Games, sixty-four years ago, just 16 athletes took part. This year, over the course of the Paralympic Games, we expect more than 4,000 athletes from 150 nations to compete across 471 different events.
We wanted to both celebrate and recognise this history and the elite sporting ability of our Paralympians and so, for the first time, the Olympics and Paralympics have been planned and delivered as one, with both given equal opportunity and attention. The Paralympic Games have already captured the imagination of the British public.
We want the Games in London to be remembered as the most inclusive games ever. We made sure that disability groups helped to design the Olympic Park, with expert panels feeding into every element of the planning. Disabled people helped to build the park with 6% of those who were helped into work at the Olympic Park by the Olympic Delivery Authority being disabled people.
In addition disabled people made up 5% of the 70,000 celebrated ‘Games Makers’ whose enthusiasm and energy helped to make the Games such a success.
We have also used the transformative effect that the Olympics can bring to make transport more accessible. 66 tube stations and every station on the Docklands Light Railway are now step-free; 8,500 London buses, covering 700 routes across the city are now low-floor accessible; new lifts and facilities have been installed at key railway stations including Wembley, Slough and Loughborough; and looking to the future, another £400 million will be spent over the next three years on installing lifts, ramps and bridges at a further 150 train stations.
We also want to make sure that we live up to the aim of ‘Inspiring a Generation’. That is why we have invested £48 million in Paralympic sport for London 2012, nearly 5 times the funding received for the Sydney Games 12 years ago; to make sure that the stars of the future are inspired by the stars of today. As part of the School Games programme more than 13,000 schools will give pupils a taste of Paralympic sports. The Project Ability programme is helping schools with expertise in sport for disabled people to partner with other schools and share that expertise, and Sport England is investing £8 million in addressing the barriers that prevent disabled people from taking part in sport.
Whilst we are doing a substantial amount domestically, the Olympics and Paralympics are a global event and we want to ensure that we could share that legacy with the world.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office used its local knowledge and network of posts to promote inclusivity around the World. From Kiev to Jerusalem, from Rwanda to La Paz, our diplomats have worked hard to promote the Paralympics and to build up this excitement ahead of the Games.
We decided upon three central objectives around the Paralympics: to encourage countries without a National Paralympic Committee to establish one in time for the Games; to encourage Heads of State and Government and other senior visitors to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games - and many more did than ever before; and to raise the profile of disabled sport and disabled people around the world and create more opportunities for sport for all.
So far this work has included supporting International Inspiration to bring sport to more than 13 million children in 20 countries worldwide. We hope this will continue with a similar programme for Rio in 2016.
We have also encouraged participation in youth sport through a bilateral International School Games exchange with Brazil, which involves both disabled and non-disabled children.
By supporting the work of the International Paralympics Committee, National Paralympics Committees and other organisations with a role in supporting disabled people we hope all this will continue in the future.
We are also working with future Olympic host nations as they make their own preparations for future Games. Later today you will hear from Dmitri Chernyshenko, the President of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee. In a show of commitment ahead of the Games, Russia ratified the UN Convention on Disability Rights in May. They have also demonstrated their ambition with the ‘Barrier-Free Environment Programme’ which hopes to transform Sochi into an all-accessible city with the aspiration of turning it into a resort for disabled people for the future.
We’ve been working closely with Russia ahead of the Sochi games. A number of initiatives have been set up, notably a project to introduce disability values classes into the curriculum of schools in St Petersburg as well as cooperation with the leading Russian Sports University’s faculty of adaptive physical culture to develop support for disabled athletes.
In Brazil, we have worked with the National Paralympic Committee and other organisations to help raise the profile of Paralympic sport.
One of our Premiership football clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, are partnering with a Rio-based blind football NGO to encourage more grassroots participation in disability sports; a Brazilian samba band including both able and disabled members participated in the London 2012 Culture Olympiad during the Hackney Carnival; and young Brazilian parathletes competed in the UK School Games Finals in May. A young UK parathletic team will compete in the Brazil Paralympic School Games later this year.
Under our bilateral Government Olympic Observer Programme, we are also sharing our experiences with the Brazilian government of using the Paralympics to change how disability is viewed, as well as providing the expertise of UK companies in designing public spaces, including our Olympic venues and Olympic Park, which are accessible to all.
The work that we have done, and will continue to do over the coming years to produce a meaningful legacy for the London 2012 Paralympic Games will I think preserve this reputation in the future. It will help other countries to build on what we’re doing.
In the weeks before the Games Oscar Pistorius said that he believed that the Paralympic Games in London would change people’s perceptions about disability; focussing instead on the ability, and the triumphs and the disappointments of the athletes.
I hope that we have met this expectation and that, in years to come, we will be able to look back on the legacy of London 2012 with pride. It is my confident belief that it will be a legacy that shows Britain at its very best - diverse, dynamic, welcoming, open to the world and striving for excellence in every area of endeavour.
I hope that you enjoy the rest of the summit and find it a source of ideas and inspiration both now and in the future.