David Owen

It is September 3, 2012 and I am in the middle of a West London square sipping something fizzy and celebrating a friend’s birthday.

By the sort of random process that tends to happen at such parties, I somehow fall into conversation with a well-known Fleet Street columnist.

It was a private event, so I won’t name her, but she was an A-lister.

The Paralympics are in full swing, so the conversation turns quickly to London 2012.

As far as I know, sport has rarely if ever featured in my interlocutor’s oeuvre.

So it comes as little surprise to learn that she views the fuss and bother of hosting an Olympic Games as essentially a waste of money.

This was not, though, as I now recall, her opinion of the Paralympics.

While she would not, I am sure, have endorsed the erection of London’s glittering array of new sports arenas for the benefit of this event either, she did, it transpired, perceive some sort of value in these Games.

It was, as I say, a birthday party and I was not taking notes, but as I remember, she clearly grasped how the Paralympics might help to generate more accessible urban infrastructure, more thoughtful attitudes to disability and buoyant self-confidence in those participating in and watching the Games in their ability to get what they want out of life.

In short, I like to think that she exited our discussion with a somewhat enhanced view of the significance of sport’s possible role and usefulness in 21st-century society.

This, it seems to me, is a by no means insubstantial part of what makes the Paralympic Games such an important institution.

The Games almost force people who have no interest whatsoever in sport, who, insofar as they think about the subject at all, dismiss sport as a monumental waste of time, effort and money, to re-evaluate.

The Paralympic Games play an important role in how disability is perceived ©Getty Images
The Paralympic Games play an important role in how disability is perceived ©Getty Images

This is worth bearing in mind for anyone who still thinks of the Paralympics in their heart of hearts as, essentially, a charitable undertaking: a present from us, the able bodied, to those less fortunate than ourselves, who are granted the right to compete in our gleaming new cathedrals of athleticism for a brief window once every four years.

This is very much a two-way street; indeed, as my new non-sporty friend instinctively surmised, the Paralympics potentially offer more of value to society at large than their money-drenched Big Brother.

In any case, you do not have to reflect for long to recognise that the notion of a world split permanently and definitively between us, the able-bodied, and you, the disabled, is a nonsense.

(This, incidentally, is why I wonder about some aspects of the "WeThe15" message.)

There is not a single person alive whose body and brain function with 100 per cent efficiency.

Just about everybody breathing will experience periods of disability, if not before, then when they reach advanced old age.

The stories of Paralympians, some of whom were born with the particular disabilities which have paved their way to Tokyo 2020, some not, can help us to appreciate this simple fact and modulate our attitudes and behaviour accordingly.

The logical conclusion points towards a future Olympic-Games format in which para-sports are fully integrated, as at the Commonwealth Games.

This will take a while to realise: the expansion in scale which such a step implies is unfeasible without a complete rethink.

But this is the direction in which we should be heading, as a prelude to a society in which loss of a limb or impairment of a sense exerts as little bearing as possible on an individual’s lifetime ambitions and eventual attainment.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is also an IOC member, meaning he would be in a difficult situation if he backed the idea of holding the World Cup every two years ©Getty Images
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is also an IOC member, meaning he would be in a difficult situation if he backed the idea of holding the World Cup every two years ©Getty Images

• A couple of points on the issue of doubling the number of FIFA World Cups, which has re-entered the football "conversation" in the wake of a feasibility study announced by the governing body last May.

First, rather like fixing a permanent location for the Olympic Games, this is not a new idea; indeed, it tends to pop up with some regularity.

“Radical plan for World Cup every two years,” proclaimed an old story on the front page of the Financial Times written by, er, me; that was in June 2006.

And I note that Goal.com has traced the origins back even further, once noting that Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s former President, "floated the idea of a World Cup every two years as early as 1999".

This is not to say that the concept will never come to pass.

Second, Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s current President, is, of course, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.

This means he has taken an oath promising, among other things, to serve the Olympic Movement to the best of his ability, to always act independently of commercial and political interests and to promote the interests of the IOC and Olympic Movement.

It seems to me pretty obvious that doubling the frequency of World Cups could have a severe impact on the Olympic Movement, if it meant the football flagship and the Summer Games being staged, once every four years, in the same summer.

This has got me wondering whether, with Qatar 2022 about to set a precedent, any extra World Cups might end up being scheduled for northern-hemisphere winters.

This might suit the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, whose proposal led to the feasibility study idea being approved.