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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Paralympic Glory - With Boos!

In my last blog, I wrote about the disabled scientist Stephen Hawking encouraging all the athletes to reach for the stars during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games. This had been the most successful games ever, with as many as 1,440,000 spectators attending the athletic stadium alone, with 80,000 watching each of the eighteen sessions spread over nine days, where up to 1,100 athletes competed at the 166 medal events. Add to this, 80,000 had attended the opening ceremony, and the same number will be expected to fill the stadium to full capacity for the closing ceremony taking place this evening, making a total of 1,600,000 spectators for the athletic stadium alone. And this does not include the many more watching all the other events live, including the swimming, cycling - both track and road - and team sports such as wheelchair basketball and rugby.

Last week, I took an afternoon off work to watch on TV the men's track cycling held at the velodrome. Personally, I prefer watching road cycling, but I could not help letting my emotion rise at the magnificent performance put in by these athletes. Two of them were leg amputees who can only pedal with a single leg. Too bad that at the time I did not note down who these riders were or the countries they represented, but the ability to pedal the specifically adapted bicycle to such a terrific speed has put me to shame - one as able-bodied who completed in triathlons which feature road cycling, back in the 1980s.

But the title of greatest Paralympic of all so far, surely, will go to British champion of the T54 category, David Weir. This athlete who has massive shoulders and barrel-shaped biceps to compensate both legs incapacitated, won Gold at the 800 metres, the 1500m, the 5000m and today, the Marathon, in the racing wheelchair like the one pictured above. Such athletes have certainly reached for the stars indeed, and according to a street survey conducted by Sky News, the Games have raised society's respect for the disabled, with one person declaring that the Government now need to deal with the needs of the disabled in general with a greater sense of empathy and compassion.

If this person's view of our Government is nationally universal, this could be the reason of the booing from the 80,000-strong crowd who filled the stadium on Monday, September 3rd. This was when our second most important politician after the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, arrived to present medals to the three winning athletes of the men's 400m, of the category T38 - athletes with cerebral palsy. When his name was announced, just about the entire stadium booed.

Newspapers went into overdrive on why this had happened. What I found remarkable were the two opposing reasons for the booing. According to the Daily Mirror, the reason for the huge unpopularity was due to the severe scrutiny every disabled claimant has to undergo in order to receive incapacity benefits. One of the Games sponsors was ATOS, a French firm contracted by the present Government to undertake the scrutiny. This resulted in many disabled claimants forced off benefits to take on employment. Although at first this may sound reasonable, according to Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton, these are low paid jobs more suited to able-bodied workers if such work can be found. Rather, such firms are either going out of existence or refusing to hire such employees. The end result, according to her report, is the rise of suicides among the disabled whose futures were thrown into confusion.

On the other side of the debate board, Daily Mail reporter Tom Utley has defended the Chancellor, declaring that he had sympathy for the beleaguered politician after being so humiliated by such a baying crowd. Utley reasoned that the majority of the crowd were probably foreigners or those who did not realise who Osborne was, and simply joined the growing chorus of boos started by a militant few who had issues with the Government.

I have grave doubts on Utley's opinion. I wouldn't mind betting that almost the entire crowd were British, many from the Home Counties. They were certainly not ignorant of Osborne. Rather, I tend to see an arrogant attitude in this columnist who accuses the crowd to what adds up to being ignorant hooligans, out to find an excuse in putting down the politician simply because they did not want to be left out from the pleasure of the taunting started by a few.

Whatever the reason behind the booing, in general George Osborne is disliked, accused of being snooty, out of touch and lacking both empathy and compassion, particularly for the disabled and most likely also the lower working classes. After being privately educated, Osborne attended Madgalen College in Oxford, where he was also a member of the Bullington Club, an elitist organisation with a questionable reputation.

Bullington Club member George Osborne

And it this what strikes me, the irony of it all!

Britain is world renowned for its class system. No matter how questionable such a system is, the British population loves to talk or read about it, and either exalt or talk it down. One prime example is during Sunday evening TV drama. These are normally period films depicting social class, snootiness, and imperialism at its peak. The day before the closing ceremony of the Paralympics were to begin, the Daily Mail Weekend TV guide had on its front cover the snapshot of the immaculately dressed upper/middle class couple, Matthew Crawley and his fiancee Mary Crawley, of the new series of Downton Abbey. The feature extended to the first sixteen pages of the magazine, such priorities such a drama series was given. The show, based in the early 1900s, is about the stormy romances and shady dealings within an aristocratic family who are clearly separate from the downstairs servants.

The Crawleys from the TV drama Downton Abbey. Englishness at it peak.

They usually have a quasi "Christian" attitude on which they claim that they are in God's complete will due to their nationalism - the William Blake's Jerusalem in which England is God's unique country, and by submission to the King, who is the intermediate between the Almighty and his green and pleasant land, the only way that God's will is fulfilled is to spread the Empire by fighting, conquering and subduing. Yet the very plot of the drama has brought in a massive audience. The Brits love a scandal among the aristocracy - the unfaithfulness, betrayal, adultery, deception - all under the umbrella of fierce snobbery, snootiness and imperialistic patriotism. Such is the popularity of Sunday evening TV viewing. And the verdict given of Chancellor Osborne at the Paralympics.

All in the past now? Actually, I have Christian friends who are a few years younger than me, who still uphold the class system and lament over the loss of Empire! And not forgetting newspaper journalists, particularly of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other "Tory" newspapers, who still grieve the loss of Empire and uphold the rights of the privileged. Utley's article say it all. The generation of the Crawleys continue on, without any signs of phasing out.

So it makes me wonder how all this can be reconciled with the idea of an itinerant Jew with his twelve sandal-shod followers, some just working class fishermen. Not only these were the founders of the Christian faith, but this Jew taught his disciples to spread the message of salvation through faith in him, and also taught compassion to the poor and to heal the sick, and to bring hope to the lost, to the disadvantaged and those on the wayside. In one of my blogs, about the rich man and Lazarus, it was Lazarus who ended up in Abraham's presence. Unlike the wishes of the Crawleys, and with the impression I have gotten, also unlike the wishes of our "Tory" Government, the rich man did not get any honour when his time came, as was expected.

Our Paralympians deserves great honour and respect. Their dedication, guts and sheer determination to win had brought them the distinction they so richly deserve.

But empathy and compassion are even greater virtues, because these bestow life and hope to those who don't have hope. And these should be found in those who claim Jesus Christ as their Saviour.


  1. I agree that we have much to learn from and admire in the Paralympians. We all have limitations, but those who focus on their abilities instead are a great example to follow. Without Jesus we can do nothing, but with Him, all things are possible. Praise God that His grace is sufficient, and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness!

    Thanks for the great post, & God bless,

  2. Absolutely excellent post Frank. I concur with everything you've written here, about the Paralympians and about the class system too. Class is just prejudice, even though certain people will argue till they are blue in the face that it reflects mere reality, when like everything usually unjust it is reinforced by all kinds of 'prophets' and all kinds of unfairness and double-standards. I will also say this; if a person has to feel superior to someone else, for any reason, surely within themselves they really feel inferior. I have never felt a real need to feel better than anyone else, especially where class and race are concerned; it baffles me to be honest.

    And the British Empire; the less said about that protection racket the better!

  3. It always amazes me that so many, not just in England, promote the idea of a superior group to lead. Jesus was very specific in Matthew 20:25-27. "But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:" I have yet to understand why the media in the U.S. keeps trying to find us some form of royalty.

  4. There is only one empire that can be looked up to and that is the one where Jesus Christ resides. He is king of kings, Lord of lords and has total empathy with all of mankind. The people who shone and stood out on the day of the presentation of the three medals were those paralympic athletes, and having George Osborne present the medals actually had that fact made more obvious. It was an insult and foolish to have had him make that presentation after the stress he has caused so many disabled people, and the fact that he could not see that has made him look even more out of touch with real people, and therefor completely not suited to the parliamentary position he holds.