Coffee House

Forget school sports: the Paralympic row could be far more toxic

24 August 2012

3:16 PM

24 August 2012

3:16 PM

The Paralympic flame is now burning in Trafalgar Square ahead of the Games’ opening ceremony on Wednesday. As it was lit, Boris Johnson encouraged London to ‘re-ignite the spirit of the Golden Games’ for the Paralympics, which London looks ready to do, given the record sales of 2.3 million tickets (a lesson in endurance and determination to succeed in spite of many obstacles in itself, given the quality of the Locog website that sells those tickets).

As with the Olympics, even though the Paralympics are not about politics, they still offer an opportunity for some to make political points. During the first Games, the arguments focused largely on school sports and were as amusing as they were vitriolic. But the political row that threatens to flare up during the Paralympics is far, far more potent.


The main sponsor of these games is Atos, which provides the unpopular work capability assessments for the Work and Pensions department. Atos would probably always be unpopular because it is doing a difficult job which involves telling people things they might not want to hear, but its main problem is that it doesn’t seem to be very good at handling this extremely sensitive task.

The tests themselves – which, as I always remind Coffee Housers, were set up under Labour – have a number of flaws which risk undermining what is a very important drive to return those who are fit to work back into employment while protecting those who are too ill or severely disabled. Disability campaigners, who are already pretty upset about Atos, are extremely upset that this company is sponsoring a games for people with disabilities. UK Uncut has decided to get involved, too, planning protests at Atos centres across the country during the Games which may or may not be particularly helpful to the cause of those pushing for fairer fitness-to-work assessments, given UK Uncut’s record.

Accepting this sponsorship was a decision for Locog, not ministers, but Chris Grayling, the employment minister who oversees the back-to-work agenda, and the Prime Minister will still find themselves defending Atos and their own reforms with a great deal of care and trepidation over the next couple of weeks: this is a far more emotive area than playing fields.

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Show comments
  • Supergrump

    I have come across quite repulsive actions carried out by Atos:a woman who can barely walk because of back problems, and whose much delayed specialist appointment was cancelled out the last minute so as not to miss a target, told she should work; a diabetic man with little and decreasing vision, age 63, likewise. There are chronic skivers who should be caught , are they I wonder or are people like the ones I mentioned just soft targets for managers boosting their careers?

  • Eddie

    Isn’t Atos a French company anyway? Perhaps the row can be about how we in Britain (or our masters) seem happy to sell off all our companies and industries, and award contracts too, foreign companies – when those countries are utterly unwillingly to do the same and are protectionist (including the USA who protected Hershey from a Cadbury takeover, not just the Frenchies).
    Then perhaps we can have a rational debate – minus the hysterical emotionalism – about why watching people who are blind, in wheelchairs and missing limbs playing sport is anything more than some ghastly pity party and a good opportunity for everyone to salve their consciences about how nice we are to cripples and how very brave they are (though you’d never want your daughter to marry one, eh?)
    I know most people will not be honest about this, and will shout down anyone who doesn’t think disabled folk flailing around like drunken toddlers is the bravest bravery ever (and we should all clap with moist eyes like in some Tom Hanks movies) – but please: this is not the real Olympics but a sideshow and also, peutetre, a sad freakshow which is now, sadly, all about money. Far better if it had stayed in Stoke Mandeville as a sports day.
    The whole point of the Olympics is that it is about freaks anyway – physical freaks who have the right build and body to run so fast or whatever – even though yes they work hard and are mentally focused, and also out of their heads of steroids (which the richer countries and dictatorships cleverly cover up).
    I am however greatly looking forward to equality in this field: I too could enter the fat bloke boozer Olympics when it comes. Mind you, looking at the main Olympics it seems anyone from the Third World who is as crap as sport as me can enter too.
    I shall now retrest into my foxhole and take cover…

  • alexsandr

    why do we need Altos anyway. cant the DWP manage this themselves without outsourcing it?
    mebbe so the government can blame a nasty private company for the difficult decisions rather than taking the criticism on the chin.
    or am i cynical old git?

    • tele_machus

      For once you show perspiration
      The eejott Steve Webb at the DWP should resign and take all his LibDems with him

  • Millsy

    You mean the games will show everyone what disabled people can do if they put their minds (and bodies) to it?

    • Mike Barnes

      By that insane logic, Usain Bolt just showed everybody what humans can do.

      Can you run 100m in 9.63 seconds?

      No? Well put your mind to it!

      • anyfool

        Boost the blood enough and 8 secs at the next Olympics.

  • Gerry Dorrian

    Having a disability myself, I think that Atos sponosring an event which shows how much disabled people can achieve is an inspired idea!

  • Jupiter

    After the paralympics are finished, how about an Olympics for fat people, or midgets.

    • Austin Barry

      How about the Welfare Waddle Olympics for disadvantaged crisp and lager types who need to have their self-esteem boosted. We can all celebrate the inert lifestyle of these rotund champions as they roll to victory over the finish line.

      • Austin Barry

        We could also have a Prince Harry-themed Olympics, where posh, millionaire drones tank-up on obscure cocktails, start yelping in yah-yah tones and remove their budgie-smugglers to howls of delight from commercially savvy breast and thigh delivery systems. Oh, yah, chaps.

  • John_Page

    This will be against a background of severely disabled people showing huge achievements. For every bad case mishandled by Atos (and there seem to be plenty), the govt can point out the large numbers of people with lesser disabilities than these Olympic competitors who should be able to benefit from employment.

    They should be able to benefit from mini jobs.

    • John_Page

      To those who disagree with me: why?

      • ladygloom

        I’m disabled and I would like to work. But where are these “mini jobs”? I can’t find any. And don’t suggest that working for nothing in Tesco is the answer, which seems to be the government’s only suggestion. There aren’t enough jobs for able-bodied graduates, who do you think is going to employ me? That is the nature of my disagreement.

        • John_Page
          • ladygloom

            I have no issue with the concept outlined there, but it is hard to see how disabled people are benefited by constant “scrounger” rhetoric and the constant anxiety that ATOS will wrongly snatch their pitiful benefits away. Many of us now live in fear that the paralympics will simply be used as a “what’s your excuse?” stick to beat us with.

    • John_Page

      To those who disagree with me: why?

  • 2trueblue

    Left it rather late then, didn’t they? For goodness sake lets just hope that it will all be a great success and not worry about who put the money up. Look on it as a way of getting some of our money back from a company who so far has won no prizes. The fact that the tickets have sold so well says that we the public think it is marvelous and wish everybody success.

  • tele_machus

    “The main sponsor of these games is Atos, which provides the unpopular work capability assessments for the Work and Pensions department. Atos would probably always be unpopular because it is doing a difficult job which involves telling people things they might not want to hear, but its main problem is that it doesn’t seem to be very good at handling this extremely sensitive task.”
    As I posted yesterday on the LibDem leaflet thread. These people are cowboys and screwing us for money to boot
    Yet another Lib Dem in Government disaster(Steve Webb)

    • The Crunge

      Approximately 80% of your post is devoted to reproducing text from the above article that we can all read for ourselves. you conclude with a pair of wild accusations neither of which can be substantiated and are merely a knee-jerk emotional responsebased on irrational prejudice. You dislike this government so even when these tests or QE, which were initiated by Labour, come up for debate it is the Coalition’s fault and they are all irredeemably evil. Do you honestly believe that the Government, Atos etc etc start out with a mission statement that reads “How can we most effectively hurt and disadvantage people?”. I suspect you do. In which case this forum has no place for your incomprehensible and/or irrational accusations. Do us all a favour and confine your views to like minded souls and forums. Kindly leave rational, sensible debate which allows for diverse opinions and spirited disagreements to those of us who at least make an attempt to substantiate our views with evidence.

      • David Ossitt

        Hello ‘The Crunge’
        I agree with your post entirely and I have much sympathy with your opinion.

        However ‘tele_machus’
        or his/her/its alter ego ‘telemachus’ are trolls, particularily nasty trolls
        and in my opinion replying to them only serves to feed their twisted ego.

        • The Crunge

          David, I suspect that you are right but there is little enough rational debate in this country as it is and at the extreme risk of sounding ‘holier than thou’ it is important to try.

          • tele_machus

            Not sure which one of you favours censorship
            The point was one about the incompetence of Atos and Steve Webb as LibDem responsible

            • The Crunge

              There is no question of censorship. It is simply a request that if you wish to join the debate do so rationally with evidence to support your conclusions. Mindless insults and lazy unsubstantiated conjecture only serve to discredit you and invalidate your arguments.

        • UlyssesReturns

          I have a sister, quite normal in most respects, who achieved a very high position in the education establishment. I find it impossible to talk to her as she is a screaming blairite and incapable of seeing the world through the rational, all-encompassing eyes of the right. She is as baffled by me as I am by her and when we meet we are polite and as distant as if we were strangers. I occasionally visit the Guardian and Independent as I believe one should know the enemy but I very rarely comment on their pages as the vile anti-tory, and especially anti-Thatcher, vitriol is quite off putting and I always leave feeling slightly soiled. I find it odd that our resident troll and the other leftie fuckwits who seem to only exist for these pages won’t leave us for their own kind. When checking their Disqus activity one sees they only ever comment here or on the Telegraph. I am convinced they are either mentally ill, or paid clones sent here by the successors to McBride, Draper or Whelan, or even aliases of those lying scumbags. I now never respond to them as it just keeps them gong – like evil incubi and succubi they feed from the words of wiser men. Best to pity them and if one comes across them on a dark night, give them a good kicking to remind them of their place in society. Stalin of course would have had them shot.

          • tele_machus

            Your post is a good reason for the forces of reason to post here
            Right wing crazies cannot be left unchallenged
            Otherwise Speccie would look like

          • 2trueblue

            Sometimes ones resolve breaks.

      • HooksLaw

        I agree, and the final point to make is that whatever sort of debate the Spectator hoped for with its free to view website,
        I suspect it did not expect the sort of garbage we are in fact getting from the self serving nut job swivel eyed from both ends of the spectrum.

        The Guardian has a site called I believe ‘Comment is Free’. The reality of the web of course is that ‘Comment is Purile’.

        As ever with these sites, and the Telegraph is another example, all we get is the pea-brained numpty posturings of crass minded political imbeciles..

        The end result is this website is a waste of space and barely worth bothering about or visiting.
        Counter productive to its avowed intentions. I doubt Mr Nelson or his betters are interested though.

        I conclude that the owners of this and other sites hare happy perpetuate this decrepitude of verbage to generate what foot traffic they can to encourage advertising revenue. The fact that the visitors are mainly incapable of tying their own shoelaces is of secondary consideration.

        • perdix

          Journalists, including this lot, appear to want to find any pretext to find a “row” over something. Negative, negative, negative….

    • anyfool

      Nobody but anoraks give a toss about who sponsors the games, the only non anoraks who give a damn about disability assessments are those getting DLA or applying, a lot of people have anecdotal or very good evidence of fiddling the system and the Paralympics will confirm that a vast amount of disabled people can do work , in some cases to a better standard than other people

      • Mike Barnes

        Better create some more jobs then.

        Anybody got any ideas?

        • treborc

          Killing disabled people.

    • 2trueblue

      Atos were in fact initially employed by Labour, and the contract is still with them. Likewise G4 were contracted by Labour. We could then led off to the number of PFI hospitals that were instigated by A Burnham. Lay it at the door of those who started it.