Mark Steel: They can't be disabled
– they can swim
Having Atos sponsor the Paralympics is like having a
gay Olympics and letting the Pope sponsor them
There's a company called Atos, that you may have heard of, and the achievement
it's best known for is to be despised by thousands of the disabled. Graffiti such as
"Atos kills" is common on some housing estates, which must be why Atos is one of
the main sponsors of the Paralympics. It makes sense, in the way that if you had a
gay Olympics, you'd get it sponsored by the Pope, or you'd get an Olympics for
people who idolise tall buildings automatically sponsored by al-Qa'ida.
The reason Atos is unpopular is that it receives £100m a year from the
Government for assessing the claims of the disabled. The method Atos chooses is
to interview each claimant, ignoring old-fashioned nonsense like medical records
and asking them a series of questions such as "Do you look after your own pets?"
You get points for each answer and your final score determines whether you keep
your disability benefit. Because, as the old saying goes, if you can pat a hamster
you can do an all night shift as a security guard.
Of the thousands who have appealed against Atos decisions, 40 per cent have
been successful. This is admirable, seeing as you'd get half of them right if you
decided each claim by asking them to guess which hand you were holding a
peanut in. So maybe Atos should be in charge of deciding who has won each event
at the Paralympics. Instead of using unreliable data such as who came first, the
company can interview each athlete, declaring one the winner because, although
they came seventh, they gave correct answers to the questions "Who was your
favourite Doctor Who?" and "Have you ever been to Runcorn?" And
commentators will have to shout, "GREAT run from the Kenyan, but answered
'Andy Pandy' when asked to name a 1980s kids' TV show so not likely to make the
Atos could also conduct the post-race interviews. Rather than the jaded old
format of congratulating the winner, we can have an enlightening conversation
led by an Atos clerk that goes, "Can you swim?" "Of course I can, I've just won the
blind swimming race." "Well, if you can swim, you can't be blind, you cheat. Now
apply for this job as a crane driver."
Maybe Atos will get itself in a complete philosophical tangle during the games,
applauding each event, then thinking, "Hang on, they can't be disabled, they've
just been playing basketball", until the entire Paralympic village is disqualified,
unless one country enters a couple of dead athletes, giving them a 40 per cent
chance of being accepted into the table tennis.
Protests against Atos by the disabled have been planned throughout the games, so
this shows that sponsorship pays off. Before the games, few people had heard of
Atos, but by the end millions will know them as the bastards who make a fortune
out of ruining the lives of the disabled. They'll have brand recognition – proof
that advertising works.