I was thinking something similar during the most recent Ashes tour in Australia, over the winter of 2010-2011. The Test series, the most high-profile part of the tour, was played first, followed by a series of Twenty20 and one-day matches. What this meant was that after the emotion and drama of the Ashes (England won the series 3-1 in a gripping encounter), the limited-overs matches had the feeling of an afterthought. Australia, bruised by defeat in their own backyard, didn’t greatly care about the outcome; England, flushed with success, didn’t care either.
But if it had been the other way around, as it had been for the 2005 series, the limited-overs matches would have been a tantalising buildup, a delightful starter to a fantastic main course.
This, I think, is what should happen with the Paralympics. I’m not belittling them, any more than I am the limited-overs series. The Ashes is the greatest competition in world cricket; the other formats are splendid games in their own rights, but for reasons of historic rivalry they will never be as big news as the Test series. Similarly, the Paralympics are a wonderful sporting spectacle, but I think most people would agree with me that the the Summer Games are the headline act; to me it feels back-to-front to have them first.
Imagine it were the other way around. We’d have had a taster of the Olympic experience a fortnight before. It would have raised the already fevered anticipation another notch. And it would have helped the Paralympics stand out, by making them a vital milestone in the Olympic journey, rather than a coda. A parallel would be with the Baftas, which grew significantly in stature when they were moved before the Oscars in the awards season and became a sort of curtain-raiser and weathervane. Suddenly it was on the calendar in the eyes of the global film industry in a way it had never been before.
I have to stress again that I’m not doing the Paralympics down. I watched lots of them in Sydney when I was there, and they’re a fantastic event. But no event in the world, with the possible exception of the World Cup, can compete with the Olympics: they’re a behemoth of sport. Having the Paralympics come afterwards is like having Elbow come on stage after the Rolling Stones: they’re fantastic and you’re glad to watch them, but no one should have to follow that act. In 2016, Rio would do well to hold the Paralympics first.