In the last 24 hours I have arrived in Beijing with the delegation from the British Paralympic Association who look forward to their second Games in seven months. With 24 athletes, this is Britain’s largest team for a Paralympic Winter Games since Lillehammer 1994, and each one of them is ready and excited to fulfil their ambitions on the biggest stage.
Every Games feel unique and special, but these Games have had an unusually challenging beginning. Preparing for a Games during an ongoing worldwide pandemic was always going to be difficult, but the immediate build up to these Games has been more dramatically impacted by the tragedies happening in Ukraine.
I am very pleased that the International Paralympic Committee have listened to the collective voices of athletes, officials and commentators around the world, and reversed their initial decision to allow Russia and Belarus to compete.
As today’s opening ceremony marks the beginning of these Paralympic Games, we look forward to inspiring and exciting performances from the group of athletes competing on the snow in alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and snowboarding – and, of course, there’s the wheelchair curling team, who will be looking to follow in the success of their Olympic teammates.
The preparation for these games has been undeniably affected by the challenges of COVID, with many athletes being unable to train or compete as usual over multiple seasons, but they arrive in good form with plenty of recent performances allowing them to feel confident of a having successful Games.
As the appalling events unfold in the Ukraine, the athletes have once been called upon to show extraordinary resilience as they approach competition under challenging circumstances; their wellbeing remains our priority, and we continue to work with our partners to ensure they are supported before, during, and after their events.
I would like to thank everyone from ParalympicsGB and the National Governing Bodies who work so hard to make all of what we are about to see possible. I know firsthand that there is always an amazing team behind the team who expect very little attention or credit for the fantastic work they do. They quietly go about their business, problem-solving, firefighting, and creating an optimal environment for the athletes to achieve their dreams.
Once again, it is important that we acknowledge the continued commitment both Government and The National Lottery players have made in supporting British athletes. I would like to express our huge appreciation for their ongoing contribution and the valuable impact this has on Olympic and Paralympic sport.
As the Games begin I want to wish each and every British athlete competing the very best of luck. I have no doubt the next ten days will showcase just how remarkable this ParalympicsGB team is. There will be many inspirational and motivational stories that will come to the fore alongside the sports themselves.
We are all proud of you and we are all behind you.
Finally, we know these Games will be different and with much perspective for all of us amidst the shocking conflict in Ukraine – this is a time for the global sporting community to stand united against these tragedies.
We often talk about the extraordinary ability of sport to bring people together across the world and to drive real, positive change. It feels that 2022 is another opportunity for sport to play a valuable role where it can.