I am currently in Azerbaijan seeing the impact of London 2012's International Inspiration programme and have witnessed firsthand the power of sport in changing attitudes, beliefs and even national laws.
Back in 2005, when London won the bid to host the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012, Seb Coe made a passionate speech about inspiring the youth of the world. Those words have certainly come to fruition, with International Inspiration now operating in 12 countries and reaching out to over four million young people and children.
I am visiting Azerbaijan in my role as International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President and was guest of honour at the International Inspiration Legacy Conference - where the programme has been in operation for three years. The Azeri Government has been impressed with the achievements of the programme and going forward, it will continue to operate under their control.
The legacy day started with children and young people showcasing International Inspiration activities in a mini-sports festival before moving on to presentations and working groups discussing the sustainability of a myriad of projects and programmes that have been put in place to ensure they leave a lasting legacy.
Accompanying me on the trip was Elias Musangeya, who has been a key member of the International Inspiration team and really set the scene for me in describing the scale of the initiative. More than 150,000 children and young people have been involved in the project in Azerbaijan since 2007, with projects targeting those from disadvantaged groups in particular. In addition to providing access to sport, programmes have also looked at developing life skills, confidence and encouraging integration.
But it is attitude changes that have impressed me the most. Several years ago, for example, there were not many opportunities for young people with disabilities to access sport and teaching was not particularly inclusive.
In Azerbaijan, International Inspiration has been working in partnership with the National Paralympic Committee to help football and volleyball organisations in providing opportunities for children with disabilities and to teach awareness, sensitivity and social integration. Training has also been provided for teachers and young leaders who now understand how to bring out the best in children, whether having an impairment, being a victim of crime or living in conflict.
International Inspiration has also had an impact at legislative level. Two national policies have been passed since the programme began - the National Strategy on PE and Sport Development and a Law on PE and Sport. International Inspiration has helped the Azeri Government develop their PE strategy and inspired legal changes committing to providing more sporting opportunities for young people - including a focus on girls' participation, child protection and facilitating the mainstreaming of children with special needs.
I was lucky enough to see confident, communicative and happy children during my short visit to Azerbaijan who have been inspired by the energy within sport. International Inspiration has made a big difference to the sporting infrastructure in the country as well as directly targeting those most in need with tailor made solutions. If the work in other countries has been half as impressive, International Inspiration will leave a legacy for London 2012 for many years to come amongst millions of people worldwide.
This blog was first published on Inside the Games