The Big Read (Paralympics)

Phil Lane: Channel 4 event reinforces our common commitment to long-term changes

Last week, Channel 4 hosted a reception to launch their involvement in the Paralympic Games, and what a brilliant evening it was.

There were so many people there who will be involved in the Paralympic project, including people from the Channel, representatives from several of the production companies who have been commissioned to produce Paralympic programmes, and many Paralympic sports had representatives and athletes present.

It was also nice to see that a number of Channel 4 celebrities, such as Gordon Ramsey, Jon Snow, Rick Edwards and Phil Spencer had chosen to attend and were really getting involved in the evening. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of Jon Snow and Gordon Ramsey fighting over the ball as they tried out wheelchair basketball!

Aside from talking to many of the people there, one of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was listening to David Abraham, the chief executive of Channel 4, present the plans for broadcasting the Paralympic Games.

He outlined the planned level of programming, which includes over 150 hours of live coverage of the Games, and about Channel 4’s innovative plans to make the Games more engaging than ever before.

But perhaps most importantly to me, he talked about the Channel’s commitment to challenging public perceptions of disability sport.

A few weeks ago I wrote on this site that I believe a massive shift in awareness and recognition for Paralympic sport and for Paralympic athletes is just as important as winning lots of medals in 2012.

Abraham’s speech last week confirmed that Channel 4 will not only provide fantastic coverage for the Games but also that they entirely support our view that success in 2012 will be measured in how far we can affect a change in the way the British public perceive disability sport and disability itself.

Like us, Channel 4 will continue to strive to do the best it possibly can, but equally important is the legacy that both organisations have the opportunity to leave behind.

And that is worth its weight in gold.

Phil Lane is the chief executive of ParalympicsGB

Sir Philip Craven: A fantastic Paralympic summer of sport

With numerous World Championships taking place around the world this summer, I have already witnessed some incredible performances by athletes who are using every competition opportunity to plan for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Recently, my wife Jocelyne and I spent three memorable days in Birmingham, Great Britain at the 2010 International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) Wheelchair Basketball World Championships, excellently organised by the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association (GBWBA) and Birmingham City Council, with support from the National Lottery through UK Sport’s World Class Events Programme.

To be back watching the sport that occupied at least 35 years of my life was a great treat. I was like a little boy with a big new present that I really liked.

At the same time, my national pride was riding high with Great Britain’s men winning all of their five pool matches and the country’s women playing the best wheelchair basketball ever seen from a British women's team.

We left Birmingham on July 11. Depression hit me however when I heard that Great Britain had lost their quarter-final to France. But that is sport!

I then went to Zagreb, Croatia, for the 2010 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Shooting World Championships. I arrived for the Opening Ceremony, which celebrated all of the athletes who were going to participate.

This is the first time that Croatia has staged Paralympic Sport World Championships and they have done a great job with a dynamic Organising Committee led by National Paralympic Committee (NPC) President Ratko Kovačic. It was a pleasure to be in Zagreb and watch the men's 25 metre air pistol event live won by China's Hedong Ni. I had the honour along with NPC President Ratko Kovačic to present the medals in both the individual and team events (the team event was won by future Paralympic Winter Games host country Russia).

I travelled on July 17 to Budapest for IPC Gold Patron Allianz’s Sports World Games. With employees from all over the world, I was present with Allianz Chairman, Michael Diekmann and Board member Gerhard Rupprecht for the men's basketball and football finals, the latter being won by Croatia against Switzerland, 4-3. 

There was a tremendous sporting spirit at Allianz sports reconfirming what a great and true partnership the IPC has with Allianz!

I am now looking forward to great IPC World Championships in powerlifting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and swimming in Eindhoven, the Netherlands!

Enjoy the summer!

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming

Tom Degun: Wheels of Glory enjoys outstanding premiere

Being a journalist isn’t all hard work as earlier this week, I was invited to Buckinghamshire for the launch of a new online wheelchair basketball game designed by staff and students on the Creative and Media Diploma at Chalfonts Community College, the main physical disability resource school for South Bucks.

Moreover, the event was held at the legendary Pinewood Studios, the major British film studio where the majority of the James Bond films have been shot.

Other such blockbusters to have graced Pinewood include: The Shining, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mission: Impossible, The Bourne Ultimatum and, one of my all time favourite films, The Dark Knight.

It was therefore with a great sense of awe that I drove through the impressive Pinewood Studio gates where I spent around 10 minutes looking at the colossal 007 stage before I remembered the reason I had actually been invited to the venue.

The launch event took place in an impressive room towards the back of Pinewood Studios and as I strolled in, I joined a group of various other guests where we were informed about how the revolutionary game titled: "Wheels of Glory" had been developed by Chalfonts College through a project called Gaming!

Gaming! is one of six Accentuate projects being delivered by Create Compete Collaborate (CCC) and "Wheels of Glory" became a reality after it was decided that an online game should be developed to be played by young people around the world which would raise awareness of the Paralympic Games and the story of Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birth place of the Paralympic Movement.

Staff and students at Chalfonts College worked alongside professional games designer Dr Tom Scutt who was involved in designing cult computer game Tomb Raider.

As part of their research, students visited Stoke Mandeville Stadium and played wheelchair basketball with members of the British Paralympic Team.

The results are undoubtedly impressive as the game is extremely fun, if a little difficult to get the hang of.

In the game, while stationed in your wheelchair, you must collect coloured gems around the basketball court in order to keep up your levels of "Excellence, Determination and Inspiration".

You must grab the medals when they appear and should you achieve this feat, you are rewarded with an interesting fact about the Paralympics. You must also avoid being hit by flying basketballs and opponents as you progress through the levels.

You are able to play on your own or against other users from around the world.

Needless to say, I was particularly poor at the game when I had my first chance to have a go at it but since having a few more attempts at it on my laptop, I have steadily improved.

During the launch event, I managed to catch up with Dr Scutt who told me he had enjoyed working on such a worthwhile project that educates about the Paralympic Movement following his spell in helping to designed Tomb Raider where the main objective is to kill your enemy in the most brutal and efficient way possible.

"It was great working on something as important as the Paralympic Movement," he told me. "Having worked on games like Tomb Raider that have a bad moral stance; it was nice to be doing something that has some good behind it. It was a very difficult brief though because doing something on the story of the Paralympics that is both educational and informative but fun at the same time is very hard.

"Usually games like that are very dull but we have managed to create something enjoyable here and fun for kids to play so that is great."

Greg Hodgson, the senior leader at Chalftons Community College and Head of Art and Design, added that the game is one of the most important projects he has ever worked on.

"This is an exciting way to address the issue of disability sport and really get people involved in the story of the Paralympic Games and Stoke Mandeville which is actually as important as the development of the game itself," he said.

"It wasn’t just the students who learnt more about people with a disability, but the staff as well, and that has been one of the great things about this project.

"We are delighted with the end product and how good the game looks and that is the reason why we want it to continue this module and hopefully inspire other colleges to do the same."

Anyway, after becoming something of a veteran of the game, I have managed to reach level seven which is titled "Excellence".

There are ten levels in total and see if you can beat my score by playing the game here.

Paul Davies: London 2012 is our opportunity to put in place a world-class medical system

My name’s Paul Davies and I’m Head of Sport Science & Medicine for Paralympic Sport at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), with responsibility for the strategic direction and quality assurance of EIS support to Paralympic sports and athletes.

We work in partnership with sports to determine what aspects of sport science and medicine will impact performance and we’re delivering some 1,800 hours of sport science and medicine to Paralympic athletes every month.

Whether our practitioners are embedded within a sport full-time or deliver part-time service provision across our network, my role is to work with them and the sports to ensure that we are making a performance impact by prioritising and tailoring support around each sport and individual athletes’ needs.

We have one of the world’s leading pools of sport science and medical expertise working within Paralympic sport at the EIS, so it’s vital that we aim to develop world leading practitioners by capturing and sharing Paralympic specific knowledge and expertise.

However, as with anything in elite sport, you can’t keep still and rely on your last performance. We’re working to continually develop practitioners both as part of the overall EIS inter-disciplinary network and as part of the wider Paralympic sport community, aiming to foster the specific expertise which will give GB athletes with a disability the edge in international sport.

Sharing expertise across the EIS infrastructure is vital to ensure that value continues to be added to sports who invest in the network, utilising expertise from both within and outside the organisation including collaborations with universities and key organisational partners to help drive research and support innovative practice.

With just over two years to go until the Paralympic Games in London it’s important we seize the opportunity and harness the increasing interest in Paralympic sport to increase the impact of our support even further. 

I look forward to explaining how the EIS is involved in a number of initiatives to this end in my next blog.

Paul Davies is the Head of Sport Science & Medicine for Paralympic Sport at the English Institute of Sport

Phil Lane: London 2012 is about awareness as much as medals

Everyone connected with Paralympic sport recognises that a home Games provides the greatest opportunity we have ever had to shift perceptions of our sport and, as a consequence, of people with a disability in general. 

And with just over two years to go before the ParalympicsGB team steps out into the stadium in London, our plans for making the most of this are well underway. 

Key to this is making household names of the athletes and educating and engaging people in our sport well in advance of the Games. 

We don’t want to wait until August 29, 2012, for the nation to realise what a great sporting spectacle the Paralympic Games are and to get behind ParalympicsGB. We want that to happen now.

We know that once people watch our sport close up, meet the athletes and experience first-hand the excitement of watching Paralympic sport, they become hooked. With fewer competition opportunities than in Olympic sport, events like the BT Paralympic World Cup and this week’s Wheelchair Basketball World Championships are invaluable in giving us the opportunity to showcase and promote the sports and athletes.

And, although we’ve seen an uplift in media interest since Beijing, where only one national newspaper sent a journalist to cover the British team’s exploits, there’s still a long way to go before our athletes get the recognition that their achievements deserve. How many newspapers will carry stories on the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships despite the fact that we were bronze medallists in Beijing?

I was recently asked what was more important, a bucketful of medals in London or a massive shift in awareness and recognition for the Paralympic sport and British team? Guess which way I answered...Of course we won’t stop fighting for every medal, but for us the fight isn’t just about medals, it’s also about awareness and acceptance.

Thankfully, there are a lot of stakeholders that share this vision. Sites like this one are helping to drive interest and prove that there is an appetite for Paralympic stories; LOCOG are determined to move the Games on, as shown by the appointment of Channel Four as the Paralympic Broadcaster and Sainsbury’s as the only Paralympic specific sponsor; Channel Four are putting huge amounts of energy and commitment through all their pre-Games programming and marketing plans; BT have demonstrated their support for the Movement and the British team through the BT Paralympic World Cup; Deloitte supports disability sport right through the pathway, from grass roots to elite. I could go on.

But we will need all of these partners and more to help spread the word about the Paralympic Games and the British team if we are truly to grasp the opportunity a home games presents. With just over two years to go, our report card on raising the profile of the Games and team would say ‘making good progress, but needs to continue to work hard’.

Rest assured we will. 

It’s too good a chance to miss.

Phil Lane is the chief executive of ParalympicsGB

Ade Adepitan: If BT Paralympic World Cup is a guide, then London 2012 will be wonderful

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s BT Paralympic World Cup in May in my role of commentator for the BBC. Obviously, I spent most of my time on the wheelchair basketball coverage but was also fortunate to be at Bank Holiday Monday’s live swimming event as well.

This year’s competition seems to have been a stunning success and BT as sponsors, plus everyone else involved in pulling it together, must be delighted. 

To have 5,500 people down to the athletics event on the opening day is a real achievement and it was fantastic to hear that this is the record for a live crowd at a disability athletics event in Britain.  

Within the crowds that attended over the course of the week, totalling near 15,000 people, it was very encouraging to see so many young people.  It’s so important to make sure younger generations are informed about disability sport and the BT Paralympic World Cup offers them the opportunity to see the top athletes compete in a variety of paralympic sport. 

I hope that in a few years we’ll see the benefits of a new generation of people who are armed with knowledge about Paralympic sport and realise the quality and talent of those involved.  It would be great to not only see this boost crowds but also increase the numbers of people participating in disability sport at all levels.

One thing I noticed this year is that the athletes at the BT Paralympic World Cup were all taking the event very seriously. Sometimes, athletes can use these competitions as warm-ups for other events so it is testament to this event that it has grown enough in significance that it is now a major fixture in the yearly calendar for paralympic sport.  It is clear that athletes and teams want to win there.  A lot of athletes also seemed to be making a statement - it’s only a little over two years until the Paralympic Games in London 2012 and both GB and international athletes want to get into the winning habit.

From the events I saw, I was very impressed by the Canadian and GB wheelchair basketballers. Members and staff of both the Canadian and Australian teams that I spoke to were loving the event and the fact that they are prepared to travel so far for this competition demonstrates how important it is to them. 

The GB men won gold this year, which was the first time they’ve won the competition since 2005, when I last played at the event.  They seem to have a nice balance of both youth and experience within the team and hopefully their success at the BT Paralympic World Cup can be carried to future competitions and on to London 2012. 

However, whilst I naturally focus on the wheelchair basketball element, there were plenty of other great achievements for athletes in the week.  When I was at the swimming event I witnessed four world records being broken amidst an incredible atmosphere. It was also great to see fellow BT Ambassador Oscar Pistorius offer so much support to the event.  His global profile can only be good for paralympic sport and to have him at the BT Paralympic World Cup, and see him win gold medals, also shows how much importance he places on racing there.

Overall, I just hope that the growth in interest in this year’s BT Paralympic World Cup signals the fact that people are beginning to realise the excellent entertainment value and quality of elite level disability sport.  If this can continue to grow over the next few years, it will make for a very exciting and well supported Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

Ade Adepitan, a member of Britain's wheelchair basketball team that won a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.

Picture: Action Images/Paul Thomas

Chris Solly: Sochi Excellence Programme will leave legacy programme for future Games

The Sochi Excellence Programme is a significant step forward in the knowledge provision and capacity building offered by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to Organising Committees of Paralympic Games.

The programme itself builds on the great work over many years in the development of knowledge sharing and incorporates organization capacity and knowledge development in the context of Paralympic Sport, linking the key observations, workshop and simulation exercises into a consistent programme.

For Sochi 2014 and following Organising Committees, the programme provides an immediate benefit to the development and delivery of the Paralympic Games and an ongoing legacy of highly trained administrators ready for future Paralympic events.

From an education perspective the IPC Academy is delighted to be working with the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU), the newly formed University, to support the development of sporting administrators. We see this programme as one of many that we may work together on for the betterment and development of Sports Management expertise.

Overall the IPC and its Academy are excited to be working so closely with Sochi 2014 over the coming years as they develop what is sure to be an excellent Paralympic Games. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding provides an even stronger sense of partnership and engagement between both organisations.

The key outcomes identified for the Sochi 2014 Excellence Programme are detailed below:

• Have in depth understanding of IPC requirements in each particular field
• Acquire unique insights into essential vs. non-essential requirements and client satisfaction elements
• Have the ability to analyse IPC requirements as these are expressed within the Technical Manuals and other Games documentation and interpret them to Sochi’s context
• Understand the various potential legacy fields that can occur from hosting the Paralympic Winter Games
• Understanding on how Games preparation work can be combined with targeting positive impact
• Ability to set priorities and implement action plans towards meaningful legacies for after the Games
• Develop a Legacy Plan applicable to the needs of Sochi

Like all things of this nature it takes vision and leadership to see it through and the Sochi 2014 team and the IPC team are totally committed to the success of the Sochi 2014 Excellence Programme.

Chris Solly is the Director of the IPC Academy. In 1999 he was instrumental in the conception and creation of Olympic Games Knowledge Services (OGKS), a joint venture with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Tom Degun: BT Paralympic World Cup turned me into fan with a laptop

As the 2010 edition of the BT Paralympic World Cup drew to a close last week with a phenomenal day of swimming that saw four world records tumble in Manchester, I was left feeling slightly disappointed.

Not disappointed by the athletes, the competition or the venues but simply disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to return to the fantastic event for another year.

I turned up in Manchester ahead of the competition with very high hopes indeed but the BT Paralympic World Cup somehow managed to more than exceed my lofty expectations.

While Oscar Pistorius was perhaps the man grabbing most of the headlines, there was so much more to the event than simply the fastest man with no legs.

The seven-a-side football tournament was a clear illustration to everyone in attendance that there is a minuscule difference between able-bodied and disabled footballers while the atmosphere during the wheelchair basketball tournament was so deafening that my eardrums are yet to fully recover from the barrage.

In fact, during the men’s wheelchair basketball final which saw the Beijing 2008 Paralympic bronze medallists Britain take on silver medallists Canada, I became so engrossed by the atmosphere that I completely forgot about my occupation as a journalist and begin cheering along with the partisan crowd for Britain to go on and win the gold - which they managed to do with a 53-42 victory. 

The swimming event - which was rather unfortunately the only event from the competition shown live on BBC television - was outstanding and Ellie Simmonds leading a world record blitz from the Brits really says it all.

But the sporting highlight must be the first day of the competition when 5,500 spectators, a record crowd for a disability sports event in the UK, turned up to watch athletes compete at the magnificent Manchester Regional Arena.

The sun was out, fans were screaming and the athletes on display really did show through their blistering speed and remarkable power that you are abled by your abilities rather than disabled by your disabilities.

The whole event simply oozed world-class and the on-site events were also great fun such as the "come and try zone" run by ParalympicsGB and Deloitte where spectators were given the chance - in between matches - to have a go at Paralympic sports such as wheelchair fencing, wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball.

In order to see how difficult wheelchair racing actually was, I jumped in a chair myself to see how fast I could go round the track.

Needless to say, I was sweating within seconds and after an exhausting yet extremely slow first 100 metres, I could barely move the wheels around. It was a further blow to my pride when I was told that I was racing on the easiest setting and when I was rather unkindly moved up to the hardest setting by one of the instructors with a strange sense of humour, I could just about manage one turn of the wheel before I just gave up trying to complete the lap.

Despite my rather embarrassing attempt at a the 400m, I was glad to experience the sensation of wheelchair racing in order to fully appreciate how immensely strong athletes such as Dave Weir and Shelly Woods must be to compete not only in sprint events, but gruelling 26 mile road races, such as the wheelchair London Marathon.

For me though, my personal highlight was finally meeting one of my sporting heroes; Oscar Pistorius (pictured).

I was told once that you should never meet your heroes as you will only be disappointed when they inevitably don’t live up to your unrealistic expectations.

I was therefore slightly nervous when I set off to meet Oscar the day before the BT Paralympic World as I was worried that I might not actually like him in person or worse still, find him to be an arrogant moron because of his immense fame and success.

I remember very vividly walking up to him, introducing myself and saying: "It’s a real honour to meet you as your one of my heroes."

Looking both slightly taken a back and embarrassed, Oscar thanked me and we began to talk as if were old friends.

I was both delighted and relieved that he turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met and equally pleased that he felt that he knew me well enough to ask if he could lean on my shoulder following his exertions in 400m the next day because he said he was tired from standing up following all the post-event interviews.

Another idol of mine I was fortunate enough to meet was International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven.

Although we had spoken on the phone on a number of occasions - which I am almost certain Sir Philip does not remember at all despite him politely saying that he did recall them - it was a genuine privilege to meet him in person and I was very honoured when he said that he had enjoyed reading one of my more recent articles.

Like Oscar, Sir Philip is a truly inspirational man to talk to and an individual that will be instrumental in moving the Paralympic Movement forward. He is one of the very few people I have met that gives me goosebumps just because of how passionately he speaks and although we ended up discussing some rather unusual subjects such as Wayne Rooney and the England cricket team’s chances against Bangladesh in the recent Test series, I will not soon forget Sir Philip’s ageless enthusiasm for wanting to introduce as many people as possible to Paralympic sport.

However, perhaps the biggest star I managed to meet during the 2010 BT Paralympic World Cup was none other than London 2012 Paralympic mascot Mandeville!

Mandeville turned up on the Friday of the competition to meet and greet the children attending the event and despite the commotion surrounding the high-profile character; I managed to fight through the crowds to get not only a handshake but a picture with the icon! 
All joking aside, I was extremely pleased to see Mandeville turn up as it shows how much attention London 2012 is devoting to getting people into the Paralympics as well as the Olympics.

Sir Philip told me that he thinks that London 2012 will be that first ever Games that will achieve the distinction of hosting an Olympics and Paralympics of equal stature and I think he is probably right.

The BT Paralympic World Cup is no doubt a vital stepping stone on the path to London 2012 and without wishing to sound too much like Roger Federer after he has just won a Grand Slam, I think we should thank BT and the rest of the sponsors for putting on such a tremendous event.

The BBC should also be praised for providing coverage of the competition and despite accusations that their interest in Paralympic sport has waned following Channel 4’s acquisition of the London 2012 Paralympics, they were undoubtedly instrumental in the formation of the BT Paralympic World Cup and must be praised for that.

Tom Degun is the Paralympics reporter for insideworldparasport

Scott Blackmun: Warrior Games proof of sport's healing powers

It is sometimes difficult for followers of the Olympic Games to think of the Olympic Movement as more than a biennial sporting spectacle that showcases the world's best athletes.

On display recently at the US Olympic Training Center here in Colorado Springs was the true spirit of the Olympic Movement and the power of sport.

Right here, in our hometown, 187 servicemen and women from all five military branches came together to participate in the inaugural Warrior Games, proving the healing power that sports can have.

In a joint effort between the US Department of Defense and the USOC, with tremendous assistance from Deloitte and El Pomar Foundation, and with the overwhelming support of the people of this great community, these Games were part of an effort to inspire recovery, capitalise on physical fitness, and promote new opportunities for growth and achievement for wounded, ill and injured service members.

Servicemen like Marc Esposito of the Air Force, who won three medals at the Warrior Games, relished in the significance of competition. Not so long ago, an Afghan insurgent's homemade bomb shattered his lower legs, broke his back and knocked him unconscious for four days. Torn away from his teammates on the battlefield, Esposito joined a new battle with his Air Force comrades in friendly, albeit intense, competition thanks to the Warrior Games.

"The Warrior Games are a great tool to help facilitate recovery and motivation," Esposito said. "These games are a new battlefield where no one is getting hurt and we come back stronger. You have to be motivated to get better because medicine can only help so much."

For Esposito (pictured) and the other competitors in attendance, sport has become an outlet for physical and emotional recovery.

It was evident throughout that the event had an incredible impact on the athletes and ignited a spark in them. Perhaps nowhere was that more obvious than in the hand-cycling event where two competitors turned back on a snow-covered course to help an Army competitor reach the finish; brothers-in-arms indeed.

The Warrior Games, however, represent just one small step in a long journey. In fact, the true impact of this effort will be felt only by ensuring that our service members continue to stay active in their communities, and in our community here in Colorado Springs, the other 360 days of the year.

As sports fans, we see the best and the worst in the games we watch and the teams we follow. And while the Warrior Games may stand as only a small moment on the national sports landscape, we can learn a great deal from the servicemen and women who competed, particularly about the power of sport and the role it can play in our community.

In this time and place, the 187 men and women who competed in the 2010 Warrior Games, and each of whom made a life changing sacrifice in the name of duty, stand as a testament to the essence of sport. There is joy and meaning in being the best we can be.

Scott Blackmun is the chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee

Suzi Williams: BT Is delighted to continue support for ParalympicsGB until 2016

Sitting at lunch with Oscar Pistorious yesterday was the starting gun for me on this year's BT Paralympic World Cup.

In Manchester over the next seven days, starting tomorrow (May 25) and continuing through until next Monday (May 31), more than 300 of the world's elite Paralympians will be competing at the event - which is regarded by many as one of the most important stepping stones to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

It's a fantastic opportunity to see the world's elite in action. Many of the athletes we'll see competing over the next week will be at the start line of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The competition gets stronger every year and it really reinforces for me the power of Parlaympic sport to inspire, connect and engage people of all ages and backgrounds.

BT Ambassadors Oscar Pistorius and Liz Johnson will be there of course at the heart of the action. The BT Ambassador programme is our way of engaging and inspiring our people and our customers as London 2012 gets closer, and it's a pleasure and a privilege for me to work closely with people like Oscar and Liz along our journey.

The athletes are doing a fantastic job for us - whether competing, speaking at internal or customer events, or supporting our wider PR and marketing programmes.

We wish them and all the athletes the very best of luck as they compete over the next few days.

The start of this year's BT Paralympic World Cup also provides us with the perfect opportunity to announce our increased commitment to Paralympic sport. It's something that BT is very proud of, and I am pleased to say we are now doing even more to help secure a lasting legacy for Paralympic sport in the UK.

Beyond 2012 BT is committing to continue its support of the British Paralympic Association (BPA) all the way to January 2016. This means we will help support ParalympicsGB athletes as they compete in Sochi in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016. BT will have exclusive partner rights with the BPA and the highest level of sponsorship rights.

It's a very exciting time, with a little over two years to the start of London 2012.  In our role as official communications services partner, BT is delivering the most connected Games ever, and ensuring everyone can be involved in the Games like never before.  Every image, every sports report, every visit to the London 2012 website and millions of calls, e-mails and texts will be delivered over BT networks.

Suzi Williams is BT Group marketing and brand director. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more information click here

Ade Adepitan: New sport presents plenty of challenges

Switching to a new sport has definitely been an interesting challenge and, having competed at an elite level in wheelchair basketball for such a long time, it’s exciting to start a new sport with a clean slate.

Whilst I’m still developing as a wheelchair tennis player, I feel like I’ve been able to use the wisdom gained from my previous sporting career to benefit my new one.

However, there is also a degree of frustration. For ten or so years I could go anywhere in the world and be one of the better players on the basketball court so it’s very hard to then find yourself at a new starting point where you’re the worst player.

When I first played wheelchair tennis I was beaten by people of all ages, from 12-years-old to 50-years-old.

When I played basketball it took me 10-to-12 years to perfect a really consistent outside shot. For tennis, they say you need to play 40,000 swings before it hits muscle memory – maybe I’m at around twenty-five thousand swings (a rough guess!) so I’m getting there. I have an advantage from my basketball days as I’m naturally very fit and also very strong. 

However, I’ve also found I’ve needed to learn new skills, especially relating to wheelchair movement. Basketball is more staccato in terms of movement, much more short and sharp, whereas tennis is more of a dance and you need to glide across the court. Wheelchair tennis is a bit like a jigsaw and as I make more progress it’s like I’m fitting more and more of the pieces together.

There have been some highlights from my brief time in tennis. I played on a tour in South Africa and there was one game I remember clearly where I reached the quarter-final of an ITF tournament in Johannesburg. I came from a set down to win. I’d be playing abysmally and then after the first set it began to rain.  I was off that court in a flash and, with the game suspended, I was able to watch my performance and analyse where I was going wrong. I returned the next day and won two straight sets for victory.

However, there have of course been a few low points. One memory I’m able to laugh about now was when I was playing in a tournament in Utrecht in Holland.  In a moment of sheer frustration I threw my tennis racket at the wire mesh fence that lined one side of the court. Somehow, and I wouldn’t be able to do it again if I tried a million times, I managed to lodge the handle in between one of the wire mesh holes and the racket was just stuck up on the fence.  My advice to anyone is not to throw a tennis racket unless you have a racket sponsor - had that been the case I could have left it there and pulled a new racket out of my bag! 

Unfortunately, I only owned one racket and my coach pointed out (with laughter from the crowd ringing in the background) that if anyone else helped me get it down it would count as a point deduction for racket violation. I was forced to keep shaking the fence until it finally fell down (upon which, to complete the humiliation, it hit me on the head!).

I’m not taking too much notice of any pressure around London 2012. I know I’ll be able to play a part in London 2012 as there are various opportunities presenting themselves in areas outside tennis. However, there is an opportunity for me to put myself forward as one of the people competing for a wheelchair tennis place. I wouldn’t want to do this if I didn’t think I had a real shot at making an impact and pushing for a medal.  

Three players have probably almost guaranteed their place in London 2012 at the Paralympics, so it looks like there will be competition amongst about five of us for the remaining spot. The likelihood is that a play-off tournament will be arranged later this year to help decide who will take that spot, so it’d be really interesting to see how I’d fare in a play-off scenario.

It’s less than a week until the start of the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, which is a brilliant event and gives people a taste of what it’ll be like at the Paralympics in 2012. It enables some of the best international Paralympic athletes to compete against each other every year in athletics, swimming, seven-a-side football and wheelchair basketball. 

It’s also a great chance for GB athletes to get a sense of what it’s like to compete on home soil in front of home fans. I was lucky enough to play in the inaugural event, where the wheelchair basketball team won gold, and I’ll always remember the noise and support from the crowd. It’s great that, as of last year, BT chose to add their support as the title sponsor of the event, furthering their historical support for disability sport in Britain and helping raise the profile of Paralympic sport. 

In terms of London 2012, the whole country seems to be growing more and more excited.  It would be amazing if it can help more Paralympians become household names. As a country, we have a chance to leave a true legacy and, for me, the most important element of that will be to change attitudes to sport. 

I don’t just mean at the elite level - I’d like to see the legacy take the form of better sporting facilities across the whole country as a result of increasing demand from people wanting to participate in sport after having been inspired by our Olympians and Paralympians. If we have a better environment to encourage sport, then we can have a fitter, happier, healthier society and that’s something that can only be good for Great Britain.

Ade Adepitan, a member of Britain's wheelchair basketball team that won a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more details on the BT Paralympic World Cup click here.

Sir Philip Craven: Welcome to the family Mandeville

It is a thrilling moment on the road to the London 2012 Games. The Olympic and Paralympic mascots have been chosen and officially revealed to the world.

At the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), we are celebrating the creation of Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot who is certain to bring the Paralympic Movement to new heights. Like its Olympic friend Wenlock formed from a drop of steel from the Olympic Stadium’s construction, Mandeville offers a youthful touch to the big event in 2012.

I congratulate the London 2012 Organising Committee for the excellent choice of this unique mascot. I am sure that the mascot will be loved by children all over the world.

The form and spirit of Mandeville is already clearly present upon first glance, and what progresses over the next two years will further this around the world. And as more and more people meet our mascot, they will forever be given a lasting impression of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The name Mandeville is most inspiring, as it is also a reminder of the history of the Paralympic Movement. In 1944, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, at the request of the British Government, opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

A new approach introduced sport as a paramount part of the remedial treatment and total rehabilitation of persons with a disability. Rehabilitation sport evolved rather quickly to recreational sport and the next step to competitive sport was only a matter of some years.

On July 28, 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded.

As Mandeville travels around, children and adults alike will learn about the history of the Paralympic Movement. Furthermore, they will see how Paralympic sport is alive and well and continues to grow, offering opportunities to people with a disability who are interested in sport. We are a growing Movement.

Mandeville is modern, and is adaptable to all environments.

His story is one that can be likened to our athletes, as they too are a modern representation of athletic ability and performance. Their skills on and off the field of play continue to inspire audiences everywhere.

Our history will be represented in the name, spirit and form of Mandeville, the London 2012 Paralympic mascot. And as young people learn about the Paralympic Games and the magnitude of what is possible in life, they too will be inspired to achieve more and challenge themselves beyond all boundaries.

Welcome to the Paralympic Family, Mandeville!

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming

April Holmes: Following in the footsteps of Flo Jo

It sounds crazy, but I usually train about five hours a day, four to five days a week. I’m usually up and out ready for warm-up by 9:30 and ready to run by 10am. Training consists of everything from lifting weights, to pylos, to cardio, to running, to bike workouts, or any number of things like that.

My training group is an amazing one to be part of, I’m in great hands and always ready and willing to work hard every session. My coach is Al Joyner, who won an Olympic gold medal in triple jump and the husband of Olympic sprinter Flo Jo before she passed away. The coaching staff here knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.

The programme I train in is one of the first programmes where Olympic and Paralympic athletes train together. My coach is an Olympian, my teammates are Olympians and I do all the same work outs that they do. I think it’s pretty awesome to be part of something that’s taken so seriously.

It is hard work, but I enjoy every day. I go out to practice and think about all of the people with disabilities who aren’t able to run and remember that it’s such a privilege to be able to do this. There are times when it’s hard to make yourself work out and you need to find the motivation to keep doing it.

Although I’m a typically positive person, like everyone else I need to find things to keep me going.

In my spare time I do a lot of speaking engagements with various groups. It’s something I really enjoy doing, but I’ve especially enjoyed working with some of our injured service military people.

This week I’ll be helping out with an event called the Warrior Games, which is where every branch of the US military comes together and competes in various events in this competition. We’ll have a couple of days of practice and then they have a real meet. I’m one of the coaches there and it’s really rewarding to see people that you’ve coached succeed.

Looking ahead to the summer, the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester always kicks off my European season. The athletes competing are the greatest athletes that we have in our sport and it is here that they come together and showcase their talents.

It’s great because it’s one of the only times outside of a World Championships or Paralympics where all of the top competitors come together. It’s always a tune up to see where you are and a great annual meeting with all of the other athletes that you don’t see very often.

The crowd and the kids are always really awesome too; it’s such a fun event to compete in. If the English weather would only cooperate sometimes that would be fantastic, but unfortunately that’s out of my control!

April Holmes, from the United States, is the T44 100 metres Paralympic champion and 100m, 200m and 400m world record holder. For more details on the BT Paralympic World Cup click here.

Sir Philip Craven: High anticipation to London 2012 with Sainsbury’s sponsorship

The London 2012 Paralympic Games just got more exciting! The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is proud to see that the next edition of the Summer Games will have Sainsbury’s exclusively sponsoring the Paralympic Games.

With such a well-known British brand supporting the Paralympic Games, this will set new promotional opportunities for Paralympic sport and the Paralympic Movement. It will also leave a powerful legacy across the United Kingdom that will inspire future Paralympic athletes as well as every community with a Sainsbury’s location.

With over 850 stores to help promote the Paralympic Games every day, communities everywhere will learn about our athletes and the sports that are to take place in London.

The chief executive officer of Sainsbury’s, Justin King, said that Sainsbury’s is committed to promoting a healthy, fitter lifestyle across all ages and abilities. This complements the vision of the Paralympic Movement which is to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.

What I find thrilling is that in the run up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, merchandise will be made available across the United Kingdom. This high awareness will undoubtedly add to the anticipation that has already hit the British capital.

I have already witnessed the campaigning taking place for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and this adds an unprecedented level of excitement. It will be a new experience for the Paralympic community, as they watch everything that they have worked for over the course of many years be promoted in a way that follows the Paralympic values of Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality.

As part of our mission, the IPC seeks the continuous global promotion and media coverage of the Paralympic Movement, with its vision of inspiration and excitement through sport, and its ideals and activities. We also support and encourage educational, cultural, research and scientific activities that contribute to the development and promotion of the Paralympic Movement.

Following this, Sainsbury’s will also be working with the education team from the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) to develop opportunities related to its successful Active Kids programme as part of LOCOG’s Education scheme, ‘Get Set’, the official London 2012 Education Programme for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Driven through an interactive website, it hosts lots of free resources for 3-19 year olds. Young people can use ‘Get Set’ to find out about the Games and explore the Olympic and Paralympic Values.

As we will experience fantastic Paralympic Summer Sport at its highest level in London, it is a most fitting time to celebrate our partnership with Sainsbury’s, and their commitment to the Paralympic Movement. This Tier One sponsor status for the Paralympic Games confirms their support of our organisation and the athletes who aim to be the best in their respective sport.

Because of the Paralympic Games and this kind of massive promotion, the Paralympic Movement will continue to grow. And because of this support, we will certainly gather a bigger audience and more fans who have not had the chance to experience Paralympic Sport. This promotional opportunity is that chance.

I hope everyone enjoys the excitement and the build-up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and I look forward to reading about the growth in the country as it happens, and the positive affect it will have on communities and people with a disability.

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming

Richard Fox: Dream it, believe it, achieve it

I’ve been training so hard recently that I feel like a prize greyhound!  I’m currently training six days out of seven. I work for BT in the daytime in their technical support division and, as a company, they’ve been incredibly supportive of my efforts with the England and GB cerebral palsy football teams.

When I first started at BT I didn’t think to mention my football but once they found out they really wanted to support me. To be added to their BT Ambassador programme was a real honour.

The England seven-a-side football team only gets to meet up about once a month so the coaches have stressed the importance of the individual training. They have started to put in place a strict training regime and have given us all heart monitors so that we can maximise the effectiveness of the exercise that we do. 

Every Sunday we have to report back to our strength and conditioning coach online. He takes our results, assesses them and then monitors our progress. At the moment, we might not be the most technical team but our coaches decided that we should try and strive to be one of the fittest. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we’re all feeling the benefits.

As I’ve always had cerebral palsy, it’s not something I really think about in terms of how I manage it through my training. I’m having to make sacrifices to fit the training into daily life but it’s definitely worth it. I tend to train before and after work, I also play or train with a local team two or three times a week. With work in the daytime and training before and after, I soon realised that I need at least seven hours sleep every night so I barely drink and have curbed my social life in order to really commit to the team.

As a team, whilst we need to focus on more immediate challenges, we’ve all got an eye on London 2012. I was lucky enough to compete at the Paralympics in Beijing 2008 for Team GB and that was an incredible experience. Many people have said it, but when you’re at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, you feel like you’re in a bubble and it’s only when you come out that you realise what an amazing and surreal experience it is. I totally underestimated the size of the event and it was an absolute privilege to be there.

In terms of progress since Beijing, I think the team has dramatically improved. We’re fitter and we’re also stronger - some of the lads that were younger have grown up a bit now and so physically we’re more of a threat to the opposition. We have also begun to work better as a team on the pitch; we keep our shape better during games and when we break and attack we’re much more dangerous. However, there are always areas that we can develop. One of the main areas to work on is communication but I’m sure that, as the squad spend more time together, this will naturally improve.

A real test for us will be this year’s BT Paralympic World Cup. It’s fantastic that seven-a-side football has been added to the event and I’m really excited to be part of the GB team. It’s even more exciting that it’s an event that BT is the title sponsor of and, as a BT Ambassador, it’s great that I’ll be competing there.

Of the teams that we’ll get to play, Holland and Ireland are ranked above us - we’ve beaten them before in friendly matches but we seem to fall down against them in competitive games so this tournament gives us a fresh opportunity to pit our wits against them.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep training and pushing myself as hard as I can. Our coach has a saying that he has instilled in us as a team – "dream it, believe it, achieve it".  So far, we’re two thirds of the way there and I really hope that, with all our extra effort, we can achieve as a team at the highest level.

Richard Fox has been a member of Britian's Paralympic football team for four years and scored one of the goals that helped them qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games. He now is part of a technical support helpdesk working in BT Global Services and is a BT ambassador. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.  For more information click here.