Leaders: Paralympians take their rightful place centre stage
SUCH has been the tumultuous success and joyousness of the London 2012 Olympics, it is easy to overlook the fact that another equally important sporting event – the 2012 Paralympics – starts in 15 days.
Remarkably, the British public has not. Some 2.1 million of the 2.5 million available tickets have been sold and there are now hopes that the Games will be a sell-out.
If so, it will be the first Paralympics since they were first staged in 1960 that tickets have not had to be given away. Even if there are a few thousand unsold tickets, the number of paying spectators already exceeds the record of 1.8 million set in Beijing four years ago. Athletic events at the main stadium, cycling at the Velodrome, and wheelchair tennis at a stadium at the park are now mostly sold out.
Various reasons are being advanced. One is that people have been so enraptured by the scenes at the Olympic Park in east London and the various venues in it, that they are anxious to see them and be there to experience something of the Olympic atmosphere.
Maybe so. But it is also possible that the Paralympics have come into their own and are no longer regarded as the poor relation of the Olympics. In recent years, people have come to appreciate that the strength and agility required to participate at the highest level in Paralympics is the equal of, and in some respects greater than, that required to be an Olympian. Wheelchair rugby is also known to its devotees, for very good reasons, as murderball.
Nobody who has seen Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson in action could doubt that she is an elite sportswoman. She has overcome spina bifida to win 16 medals, 11 of them gold, at five Paralympic Games starting in 1988. Wheelchair racing is an exacting discipline that most able-bodied people would find impossibly hard to do, so for her to have remained at the top of her sport for 20 years gives her a fair claim to the title of Britain’s greatest sportswoman.
The beneficial thrill of a potential sell-out is that it will create much greater understanding that Paralympic sport is about much more than wheelchair racing. Sitting volleyball and boccia, a game similar to bowls, should become much more widely appreciated, perhaps showing doors to participation in sport that some disabled people did not know existed.
The already evident enthusiasm being shown by spectators demonstrates that public keenness for elite sport is not confined to the able-bodied versions. If they turn out to be as historic as is now promised, it will be appropriate for Britain can claim to be the birthplace of the Paralympics.
While they were first staged in Rome, the idea for them emerged at Stoke Mandeville hospital, which first staged sports contests for war veterans with disabling injuries in 1948.
This should now be the year that the Paralympics come of age and come home.
Trust nature to sort things out
Controversies over the reintroduction to the Scottish landscape of once-
native sea eagles and beavers continue to rumble away. The topic pits those who want to widen the span of native fauna against those who fear damage to other more familiar species and to farming activities. However, nature, it turns out, is wreaking much greater changes.
Recent sightings of grass snakes in Dumfriesshire, a species of reptile not previously known to exist in Scotland, excited a lot of attention. Their arrival has been attributed to global warming, which has made chilly Scotland much more accommodating to this harmless snake.
But it now appears that grass snakes are the most visible aspect of a much bigger migratory trend. A study by scientists at the University of York, which looked at the movements of more than 250 species of birds, butterflies, and other insects, has shown that a largely unseen march northwards is taking place.
An important discovery of the study is that nature reserves are a significant facilitator of this shift. Because much of our landscape is farmed, reserves become important islands in a barren and unwelcoming terrain, allowing new arrivals to thrive.
Should we be concerned about this? Not really. Arrivals that threaten native flora and fauna tend to be genuinely foreign to all of the British Isles, such as grey squirrels. Most of the new migrants have been here in Britain for centuries. Indeed, it is conceivable that if they were not able to migrate, their current southern habitats might become so inhospitable as to threaten extinction. Nature reserves, it seems, are more important arks of survival than we previously thought.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
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