Stoke Mandeville will host torch relays before every Paralympics

Stoke Mandeville will be involved in all future Paralympic Games torch relays, it has been confirmed.

Speculation has been mounting about the move for more than a year, but the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Thursday announced full details of Stoke Mandeville’s involvement.

Sir Philip Craven, IPC President, makes the flame announcement

Sir Philip Craven, IPC President, makes the flame announcement

Starting at next year’s Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, a lighting ceremony will take place at Stoke Mandeville, with the flame visiting several landmarks in the area before a celebration is held to send it on its way to Sochi.

This ceremony will be in parallel with flame events in Russia, the host nation, but Stoke Mandeville will be the only international part of the relay and the first place in history to be involved in a relay outside of the host country.

Sochi’s relay will take place between February 26 and March 7, visiting 46 Russian cities, and Stoke Mandeville on March 1.

All the flames will merge in Sochi on March 5 to create the flame which will be used in the final relay before the event begins.

Dignitaries with the flame

Dignitaries with the flame

This will be a pilot for how future relays will work before every summer and winter paralympics.

The announcement comes on the anniversary of the start of the London 2012 Paralympics and is suitable recognition for Stoke Mandeville’s heritage, with Sir Ludwig Guttmann organising the first games in 1948 at the site.

IPC President Sir Philip Craven, who attended a ceremony at Stoke Mandeville, said it was the right time to include the site in future ceremonies.

Sir Philip said: “There’s always a moment in time when the planets are aligned and they were aligned last year. The games in London was the catalyst.

IPC President Sir Philip Craven and Wheelpower Chief Executive Martin McElhatton

IPC President Sir Philip Craven and Wheelpower Chief Executive Martin McElhatton

“The torch relay is a significant event in the staging of every Paralympics and it is fitting that for each future edition of the games we celebrate Stoke Mandeville’s rich history and proud heritage as the Paralympic movement’s spiritual birthplace.

“By always hosting a leg of the Paralympic torch relay ahead of each games we are ensuring that the role of Sir Ludwig Guttmann and Stoke Mandeville in helping to create the foundations for what is now one of the world’s biggest sporting events is communicated around the world and never forgotten.”

Councillor Carl Etholen, chairman of the Bucks Legacy Board, said he thinks the announcement will benefit the area in a number of ways.

Mr Etholen said: “It will generate more sporting activities, there will be cultural benefits and hopefully more employment opportunities.

“I hope this will put Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury and Buckinghamshire on the global map.”

Tim Reddish, chair of the British Paralympic Association, said there was great pride in the acknowledgment of Stoke Mandeville.

He said: “Whilst the Sochi Flame celebrations here in the UK will be a pilot and therefore smaller in scale, we are all tremendously excited that this concept will be taking place in six months’ time and would like to thank the IPC and the local partners here in Buckinghamshire for their enthusiasm and support for this project.”

Sir Phillip visited a range of sporting activities at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, including a wheelchair basketball match featuring the Great Britain under 23 team, wheelchair archery and tennis, cycling and athletics activities.

Other guests attending included multiple Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Christiansen, fresh from winning three European Para-Dressage titles in Denmark last week.

Future development plans for the stadium and community facilities were also announced.

These include improvements to the athletes’ accommodation, an expansion of the sport on offer and development of a heritage, education and exhibition programme helping tell the story of Stoke Mandeville’s role in the birth and growth of the Paralympic movement.