The UK charity Scope released some troubling statistics recently. According to their findings, less than a quarter of Britons with disabilities are excited for the 2012 Paralympics in London, and 65% think the Games should be merged with the Olympics. Perhaps even more striking, 22% of those polled felt “patronised” by the Paralympics. This suggests that we in the disability sports movement still have a ways to go on the messaging front.
So I’m thankful for the rousing defense of the Paralympics given by Channel 4. An excerpt:
There is an irony that disabled people who feel patronised by the Paralympics are putting their focus on what Paralympians don’t do, rather than what they can do – this generally being the number one bugbear of most disabled people the world over.
Paralympians capitalise on whatever they’ve got (or haven’t got) to get ahead – just as ruthlessly as any other successful person would, disabled or otherwise – when faced with competitors who are willing to sweat, bleed and vomit, day in, day out, in order to beat them. So rather than patronising, I’d be more inclined to describe them as admirably intimidating – but then having said all that, intimidation probably isn’t the core purpose of Paralympic sport either.
The convoluted classification systems, the inter-team rivalries and the fascinating people that dedicate their lives to winning gold – that’s what makes Paralympic sport so compelling – and for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Channel 4 Television is committed to showcasing these intricacies and eccentricities in a way that’s never been done before. Perhaps the Paralympians should all down tools and take up piano lessons or astrophysics degrees à la Wonder and Hawking – but it seems to me like such a waste when they can offer so much hardcore sporting action instead.
Can I sign on? Also worth checking out is this response from a Paralympic medalist. After defending the Games on the grounds that categories like weight class and gender have long been used to classify athletes, the author writes:
For this reason, the Paralympics as an event cannot be patronizing. What can be patronizing, however, is the way the Paralympics are represented in popular culture. Just as the lack of popularity of women’s sport is less a reflection on women’s sport and more a reflection on our culture’s beliefs about women, the Paralympic movement reveals society’s attitude towards people with disabilities. This attitude is often highly patronizing.