ADE ADEPITAN, the wheelchair basketball star turned TV presenter, has a blunt, two-pronged response to those who still question the merits of Paralympic sport. “One, go and watch it, and two, meet me on any tennis court, basketball court or track and I will kick your ass.”
Bullishness like that might have seemed misplaced a decade or so ago, but interest in parasport is soaring and the London 2012 Paralympics – now just a year away – will be the biggest yet. For Adepitan, who won bronze in 2004 but no longer competes, it is another step towards recognition of Paralympians as athletes every bit as dedicated and outstanding as their able-bodied counterparts.
“The crux of it is: we want respect,” he says. “From people respecting Paralympians as athletes, then you will get the next step, which is respecting disabled people as people.”
Far from being the Olympics’ poorer relative, as it has traditionally been treated, Adepitan makes a convincing case for the Paralympics being “a purer passion” and, in that sense, truer to the original ethos of the Games. “These guys work hard, just as hard as their Olympic counterparts – and for less reward. We know we’re not going to become millionaires from our sport. It’s about being the best you can.”
Adepitan (right) has a pretty good backstory himself. Born in Nigeria, he survived polio but lost the use of his left leg before moving to England aged three and settling in Newham. His basketball wizardry earned him a place at Sydney in 2000 and he found fame in Athens four years later in the Great Britain team that scooped bronze. That, and his charisma, led to media work, including a famous BBC ident, and he now boasts a lengthy CV of presenting credits, including fronting Channel 4’s That Paralympics Show.
Highlights abound, but Adepitan cites his role as a bid ambassador in helping to bring the Games to east London as one of his proudest achievements. Amid cynicism in some quarters about a fruitful legacy, he is a passionate believer that 2012 can make a profound difference to his formative boroughs.
“All the riots and the problems we’ve had in London – I think sport can be a great answer to that. When you grow up in an area where there isn’t much financial support and you think the rest of the world doesn’t care, you can do bad things. But sport was such a positive light and you can get that message across even better through the Paralympics. It’s a purer ethic.”
Adepitan, now 37, will be presenting next year’s Games on Channel 4, who have taken the rights from the BBC and are intent on launching the Paralympics into the mainstream. But he might have been competing, had the boom in interest come along earlier and dissuaded him from pursuing a more sustainable career.
“I am bloody jealous! I wish things were different. If Channel 4 had come along and covered the 2004 Paralympics I would most certainly be taking part at London 2012.”
Ade Adepitan presents ‘That Paralympic Show’ with Rick Edwards and Iwan Thomas on Channel 4, the official broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The new series of ‘That Paralympic Show’ returns on Saturday lunchtimes at 1.25pm from 3 September.