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Side by side: How much are the Paralympics worth?

To encourage students to consider the importance of competition and success at all levels of human experience and ability (SEAL theme: Empathy).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider the importance of competition and success at all levels of human experience and ability (SEAL theme: Empathy).

Preparation and materials

  • None required, although you might like to have a whiteboard for the answers to the question in section 1.


  1. We’re going to begin our assembly today with a word challenge. I’d like you to give me 20 words that begin with the prefix ‘para’ (amend number of words up or down depending on the composition of the assembly group).

    (Take student responses.)
  2. So what might that prefix mean? How does it affect the meaning of the word to which it is attached?

    The answer to that question depends on the origin of each of the words. If our English word came from a French word, as in ‘parasol’ or ‘parachute’, then the prefix ‘para’ means ‘guard against’. A parasol guards against the sun (and, of course, as those of you skilled at the French language will know, a parapluie guards against the rain), while a parachute guards against a catastrophic fall.

    However, if the word is much older and comes from classical Greek, ‘para’ means ‘side by side’. The word ‘parallel’, which means two or more lines sitting side by side, is the perfect example.

    Sometimes, however, ‘para’ means ‘side by side’ but with the implication of being a little bit inferior. So a paramedic has medical training but not as much as a doctor. Paramedics and doctors work side by side but one is subsidiary.
  3. Wednesday 29 August sees the opening ceremony for the London Paralympics, which last until Sunday 9 September. There will be 21 sports, including athletics, sailing, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby and boccia. Over 4,200 competitors will take part, representing 165 countries from 5 continents.

    What kind of meaning does the ‘para’ in ‘Paralympics’ have, I wonder?
  4. The logical meaning of ‘para’ in ‘Paralympics’ is ‘side by side’. The 2012 London Paralympics will use exactly the same facilities as the 2012 London Olympics that finished a short while earlier. The organization, media coverage, spectacle, rewards and sense of competition will be very similar.

    The two events will take place as mirror images of each other.

    Nevertheless, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that the Paralympics is subsidiary to the main Olympics.

    It takes place after the Olympic Games has finished and will be played out in front of smaller crowds. It’s highly unlikely that in any event the performances will exceed those in the earlier competition: times will be slower, distances shorter, skill levels more limited.

    It’s tempting, therefore, to think of the Paralympics as an inferior event.
  5. But is it really? There’s another way of looking at the Paralympics.

    At the Paralympics, athletes compete for the victory against incredible odds.

    They have trained, sacrificed and committed their lives to their sport to an extent no different from that of competitors in the Olympic Games.

    Many have overcome additional obstacles because of their disability.

    Few have experienced the benefits of significant sponsorship.

    The intensity of competition will be as extreme as that in the Olympics because the will to win will be as strong.
  6. So when the razzamatazz of the Olympic Games is over, let’s be ready to applaud and celebrate the achievements in the Paralympics, where the effort will be as exhausting, the competition as intense and the pleasure in winning no less than in the Olympic Games.

Time for reflection

At what level do you compete in sport? Some of you are competing at a local/district/county/national/international level. Others count it a success to complete a fun run, win a few holes at crazy golf or negotiate a blue run on the ski slope.

Yet if you have any competitive streak at all, there is a sense of achievement whenever a victory is gained or a personal achievement is attained.

It doesn’t matter what level we’re competing at, the pleasure at an individual level is very satisfying.

Every success is worth celebrating.



Dear Lord,

thank you for the enjoyment of competition.

May we value the achievement of every deserving winner.

May we accept our victories with grace and learn from our defeats.



‘We are the champions’ by Queen

Publication date: August 2012   (Vol.14 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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