Being the sports-mad wheelchair user that I am, I’ve been watching the Paralympics over the past fortnight with a glee akin to receiving my first wheelchair at the age of four. From Channel 4’s uproariously upbeat ‘Yes I can’ advertisement to Australia’s gold-medal victory in the wheelchair rugby, the Paralympics has celebrated the feats of phenomenal athletes.
Sadly, it has again highlighted the disparity in coverage between the Olympics and Paralympics, a good metaphor for the coverage of most things disability related. Whereas the Olympics was televised 24/7 on Channel 7, the Paralympics was relegated to a second station. The argument made by the suits would be that people are less likely to be interested in the Paralympics or that the feats aren’t equal, but that’s just not true.
Take a look at the 1500-metre event in the T13 classification for the visually impaired. In case you missed it, gold-medal winner Abdellatif Baka ran a 3:49.29. This might seem an obscure time to mention until you put it in context; simply, if Baka ran that time at the Olympics, he would have won gold. It’s been doing the rounds on social media, but many of my friends hadn’t heard about it, primarily due to the lack of mainstream coverage.
It gets better though. Not only would Baka have won gold at the Olympics with that time, but the next three place getters would have too. In strange circumstances, the athlete who finished fourth at the Paralympics, and who subsequently went home without a medal, ran such a time that he also would have won gold if he’d been running at the Olympics.
The stories aren’t any less compelling either. Channel 4’s Alex Brooker paid tribute to Paralympian and ex-Formula One driver Alex Zanardi, whose story is beyond belief. In a horrific accident 15 years ago, Zanardi crashed his Formula One car, with his legs being amputated upon impact. As Brooker said, Zanardi’s heart stopped seven times and he spent 50 minutes with less than a litre of blood. In Rio, he won two gold medals at the Paralympics.
These examples aren’t meant to paint the Paralympians as inspirational figures, even if they are in some cases (yes, I believe Zanardi’s story is inspiring), but instead to highlight the lack of a rationale behind the game’s poor coverage. Quite simply, the feats and stories are on par with the Olympics. The pity is that, like most disability related issues, the coverage simply isn’t.
But the games at least provided us with a glimpse into the world of disability sport and it’s this we can build on. We need to continue celebrating these athletes’ sporting achievements and, by association, sharing such stories so people can learn more about what it’s like to live with a disability. Let’s further leverage the growing popularity of such sports and give them due attention—and not just wait till the next Paralympics rolls around.
It’s not about the Olympics and Paralympics being better or worse, because they’re equal. If we know the stories and feats are equal then, why can’t the coverage be too?
You can see Tristram’s first Clickablog article, On Disability and Sport, by clicking here.
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