Has Royal Mail’s Paralympic stamp decision  failed to deliver on what could have been a first class opportunity to stamp out exclusion during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Rather like their stamps, Royal Mail have announced that there are two standards of service for honouring our athletes; first class for gold medal winning Olympians and second class for their paralympic counterparts.

Yes, the Royal Mail and British Paralympic Association have announced plans for producing stamps during the London 2012 Paralympics which have all the hallmarks of a “special” delivery.  Every winner of our 22 gold medals (so far) has been immortalised in print on stamps rushed out around the UK by Royal Mail even faster than they can deliver a standard letter.  Quite right too, I think every one of those athletes really has played their part in inspiring a generation of young people.

For paralympic athletes, however, Royal Mail have put the brakes on producing individual stamps and their concession, if they really must acknowledge the Paralympics, is to produce a set of six commemorative stamps at the end of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The British Paralympic Association have said they’re happy with these arrangements, which I assume must be a political kind of happiness, as I would hope that the body representing our disabled athletes refuses to settle for anything less than equity with their non-disabled counterparts.

Now, before I ban my two year old from ever watching Postman Pat again in protest, I thought I should at least consider the “good reasons” that the BPA and Royal Mail have offered to explain why disabled athletes will not receive the same honour.  To me at least, it appears to be simple; Royal Mail have packaged up some positive discrimination for disabled athletes by declaring that the problem is they’re just too good – with our paralympians bringing home 42 gold medals at the Beijing games, they anticipate such huge success again they are unable to logistically meet the production demands of that many individual stamps.

Hold on a minute.  Does Royal Mail think we missed the last post when it comes to seeing through their bubble-wrapped reasoning?  They’ve had seven years to figure this out.  Team GB has done incredibly well so far and their haul of 22 gold medals is our biggest in 104 years.  Yes, I’m sure it’s been a logistical nightmare for Royal Mail to turn out individual stamps at this rate, but they’ve managed it and, in doing so, have set a precedent of honouring all of our gold-winning athletes in this way.  Our non-disabled gold winning athletes, at least.

There are 302 gold medals available.  How would they have coped if Team GB had achieved even greater success on a par with China who currently hold 34 gold medals?  Surely, when their promotion for acknowledging gold medal winners with individual stamps was conceived they would have considered contingencies and taken an optimistic view that Team GB could potentially walk away with even more gold medals?

Would the 43rd gold medal winning Olympian be told “sorry mate, you’re not getting a stamp like your 42 colleagues.  We know you’re all equal, but logistics trump equality every time.”

Sadly, in my work including disabled children and young people in leisure activities, I’ve seen logistics and process trump equality time after time and it’s not a good enough excuse.  It’s not good enough that Royal Mail offer a two tier process of recognition and, I’m inclined to think, it’s not good enough that the British Paralympic Association accept anything less than equality.

Whilst a generation of young people may well be inspired by the incredible achievements of Team GB and their tremendous success in London 2012, there is a real danger that this decision is sending that generation the message that it’s ok to treat disabled people differently and celebrate their successes and achievements to a lesser extent.

Royal Mail has missed a golden opportunity to show that same generation that all sporting achievements by athletes of all abilities should always be considered first class.

(This blog was first published on 8th August 2012.  On 15th August 2012, Royal Mail revoked their original decision and announced that Royal Mail Paralympic Stamps would feature individual athletes after all).


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