Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Glamour of Diplomacy

Just over ten years ago today an Australian ambassador in a city in Europe was pondering how best to celebrate the start of the Sydney Olympic Games. Instructions had been sent out from Canberra that all overseas missions should do something to mark the occasion. The problem was that the opening ceremony would begin at about 10 in the morning local time. Even the most hardened members of the diplomatic corps could not be expected to accept a drink so early - at least not in public. Then he hit on it - the idea was brilliant. He would give a party for the local country's Olympic team instead. That would be a gesture more in keeping with the Olympic spirit, giving the locals a tremendous send off,  strengthening the bond between the people of the two nations, generating boundless goodwill.

The invitations were sent out, the arrangements were all set in train. Everything was in order until at three o'clock in the morning on the day of the party the ambassador woke from a deep sleep. The Paralympic team. What if any of them had wheelchairs? His residence had no disabled access. Disaster loomed.
As day broke, the ambassador arrived at his office. He called in his senior researcher. "Find out who is coming and what kind of access they'll need," he told him. Meanwhile he instructed the junior girl to check on the availability of stair lifts and ramps, and whether they could be hired at very short notice.

An hour and a half later, the senior researcher burst back into the room. 'I have wonderful news for you, sir,' he cried, 'there are ten members of the Paralympic team attending your reception this evening, but they are all mentally disabled."