For the first event celebrating Young Fabians Equalities Week, Dame Tessa Jowell MP, Lisa Nandy MP, and Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of the Paralympic Association, were asked what was next for equalities following the Olympic Games.
London 2012 was a proud celebration of diversity.
Men and women, white and black, able bodied and disabled- all enjoyed equal status under the glow of the stadium lights. Now, as the fantastic achievements of the summer games recede into memory, we must ask how the equalities enshrined for a brief moment in the Olympics and Paralympics can be embedded into wider society.
All three panellists agreed that it was disingenuous to talk about a ‘legacy of equalities’ from the games, especially in relation to the disabled.
“We shouldn’t talk about legacy from the Paralympic Games,” said Tim Hollingsworth, “because it suggests immediately that you’ve got to that stage where you want to be and now you want to sustain it. I think this is a journey, and I think the journey we’ve begun is in the foothills of a mountain that needs to be climbed.”
The collective euphoria felt after Mo Farah’s double gold medal-winning runs, or Ellie Simmond’s heroics in the Aquatics Centre, risks making us complacent about equalities without cause by confusing an emotional response to specific events with a fundamental change in underlying attitudes. As Tessa Jowell remarked:
“I think that we’ve got to a more equal place, but I think its precarious, that type of progress that is achieved so quickly is precarious.”
However, it is possible to use the increased status that ethnic minorities, the disabled, and women enjoyed during the games as a springboard to make the case for ’structural equality’- factoring in the need for equal treatment within our institutions and infrasture.
Transport for London pledged to make the 2012 Games the most accessible ever for disabled people, spending £2 million on providing step-free access at all London Overground stations alone. This is a big step in the right direction, but accessibility needs to be rolled out beyond London.
Lisa Nandy thinks the way towards strucutual equality is by making it compulsory for all public sector contracts to include clauses on accessibility:
“The logic of the Olympics is that you use public procurement as a way of moving forwards on those issues [of access]. But having met with transport ministers since the Games, there is still an attitude that there is too much bureaucracy and too much red tape [involved], and we’re [ministers] not prepared to do anything about it.”
The battle for equal access is clearly far from won.
On the essential need for British women and ethnic minorities to acheive equal status in society, the Olympics provides a new generation of role models for everyone to look up to. Yet it is important to remember that British atheletes did not choose a sporting career in order to spend all their time acting as ambassadors for their gender or racial background. We cannot delegate the work of fighting prejudice to a select band of celebrities. It is up to each of us to tackle sexism and racism wherever they spring up.
However, what we can do is hold up medal-winners like Jessica Ennis, Lizzie Armitstead, Nicola Adams, and Anthony Ogogo as examples of how ridiculous it is to discriminate against minorities, immigrants, and women when they acheive so, so much.
London 2012 may be over, but we must not forget the lessons it’s taught us.
Louie Woodall is Assistant Editor of the Young Fabians Blog