As sponsorship for ParalympicsGB is confirmed until 2016, Ellie Simmonds tells Channel 4 News how she hopes becoming Britain’s poster girl will inspire the next generation of athletes.
Just five days after the closing ceremony, Ellie kicked off the legacy at a school in Chiswick, London with supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, which has just announced plans to sponsor the Paralympics until 2016.
Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King told Channel 4 News that investing in the Paralympic legacy reflected a “real change happening now in our country”.
Marking a fundamental shift in sports marketing, Paralympians are the new heroes of sport – gracing billboards across the country.
However, Mr King said: “The reality is straightforward, because what sports marketing does is inspire. It teaches us something about ourselves, it inspires us to be the best we can possibly be even if we can’t be Usain Bolt or Ellie Simmonds.
“Given that that’s what sports marketing is about, it can’t possibly have a barrier between able-bodied and disabled – between the Olympics and the Paralympics. I would argue…that if inspiration is what you’re looking for then the Paralympics was even more inspiring than the Olympics.”
But Mr King said the legacy must go further than elite sport, and instead commit to help fund the training of physical education teachers. The supermarket has launched Active Kids for All, a training programme for PE teachers designed to help teachers acquire the right skills to teach disabled pupils.
It’s a bit weird, yes, seeing your face on some Adidas sign in Westfield and seeing that on your way to your race – but it’s good that its not just me but people like Oscar, Johnny, David Weir are getting Paralympic sport up there. Paralympian Ellie Simmonds
Mr King added: “There’s no lack of enthusiasm from the children – whether they’re disabled or able-bodied – to take part in sport together. It’s about the teachers having the confidence to do that and of course, the right equipment to do that too.”
Meanwhile, Ellie said it was “really good” to have Sainsbury’s support in promoting sport.
“It will show how fun it is – I enjoy swimming so much,” she said. “I just went to regular swimming lessons. I’m not really that disabled, I’m just small. My teachers just treated me normally which helped me progress to the best of my abilities and helped me to be with normal kids.”
Sainsbury’s is hoping to train some 22,000 teachers nationwide.
“We’ve been very pleased with our involvement with the Paralympic Games … but it’s vital that that doesn#t represent a high watermark in our attitude towards disability in sport,” Mr King said.
During the Paralympic Games, Ellie said she was “in a bubble”, with no real idea of what the outside world or the media was saying about the team.
All she knew was that inside the Aquatic Centre the support was “amazing”. Even then, she said seeing her picture on billboards was “a bit odd”.
“It’s a bit weird, yes, seeing your face on some Adidas sign in Westfield and seeing that on your way to your race – but it’s good that its not just me but people like Oscar, Johnny, David Weir are getting Paralympic sport up there to help inspire the next generation and get paralympic sport into the media,” she told Channel 4 News.
I would argue…that if inspiration is what you’re looking for then the Paralympics was even more inspiring than the Olympics. Justin King, Sainsbury’s CEO
But will that feel-good factor last, and will the posters stay up? The gold medallist hopes so.
Ellie’s hope for a substantial legacy is shared by Penny MacDonald. She set up a boccia club for her 11-year old son Calum who has cerebral palsy.
Penny told Channel 4 News there “wasn’t much else around” so she decided to take matters into her own hands and encourages others to do the same.
She met other parents in a similar situation through Whizz-Kidz – the charity is now surveying young disabled people to find out if their generation has been inspired by the Paralympics, and to take their views to decision makers.