The Paralympics opened last week in London with an almost as spectacular opening ceremony as for the main Olympics. Already though comparisons are being made over the perceived importance of the event and how that reflects on our perceptions of disabled athletes.
The BBC gave massive coverage to the main London 2012 Olympics whilst you only have to look at the TV schedules to see that the Paralympics are not held in the same esteem. Even the BBC sport website is a pale imitation of the main Olympics coverage.
So how did we get the Paralympics and is it a valid sporting competition?
It’s widely believed that the Paralympics idea began at Stoke Mandeville Hospital when a consultant arrived at the conclusion that it would help amputees to regain their self-confidence if their energies and frustrations could be channelled into competitive sports although a number of alternative benchmarks can be used to define the start of the Paralympic movement. As long ago as 1904 disabled competitors took part in the St Louis Olympics whilst in 1948 a special day was set aside before the main Olympics for disabled sportspeople.
Officially the Paralympics we know today began in Seoul in 1988 when a separate Paralympics was held after the main Olympics had finished.
Controversy has dogged the Paralympics over the years and shamefully has done so still in London. Questions have been raised over the level of ‘disability’ that a person has to have to be able to compete and several complaints have been lodged by athletes who are unhappy at the ability of their fellow competitors and by the athletes under examination who have been asked to prove their disability to be able to retain their places.
The great British notion of what is thought of as funny has also raised its head with the comedian Frankie Boyle causing rightful outrage with his ‘jokes’ about the Paralympics and Paralympians.
In a world hell bent on equality, in many areas open to incredulity, the main arena where inequality should sicken us all has been shown to be still open to insidious prejudice, doing little to improve the way the disabled are thought of in our society.
On a brighter note, many of our athletes are proving themselves to be heroes in their field with personal bests, Olympic and world records being set and broken every day. The medal tally for the GB team is challenging that of the able Olympians and we proudly hold third position in the medal table behind China and Australia with the promise of more to come.
So let’s not think that the Paralympics is a second rate sideshow but celebrate the achievements which often come at the expense of greater personal sacrifice both emotionally and physically.
Notable moments of the Games so far;
|Claimed his opponents blades were too long immediately after coming second in the 200m final, a statement he later retracted and apologised for. Pistorius has become the face of the Paralympics globally following a lengthy battle to secure a place in the Olympic Games.
||Has won 2 gold medals and set a new world record in the aquatics centre following on from her gold medals at the age of just 13 in Beijing 2008. At 17, she is one of Team GB's youngest and most decorated Paralympians and is tipped to add to her medal haul at Rio 2016.
||Lost his rag and composure after the judges deemed the fall at the start of his 1km time trial final to be rider error and not equipment failure and no restart was awarded denying him a chance to ride for gold, a medal he was widely tipped to win with ease. He later apologised to the crowd and his opponent.