Comparative

Apparently this week it’s the Winter Paralympics. I’ve barely heard anything about it in the news. And there’s two problems right there.

Problem 1 – Coverage. Okay, the timing isn’t the best, what with a rather large war potentially brewing in the area, so I can understand why news agencies are not devoting much time to covering the Paralympics. So let’s look at the 2012 Paralympics, shortly after the 2012 London Olympics. For the two weeks of the London Olympics, you couldn’t move without seeing some coverage of people running, jumping, swimming and standing still. A break of one week, and then the Paralympics start, which are exactly the same thing but with people who have artificial limbs, or malfunctions with their nervous systems, or no two limbs the same shape and size. And where was the blanket coverage? Where was the “on this channel we’ve got the 100m wheelchair sprint, but if you press red you can watch the cerebal palsy shot-put”? Where was the endless discussion and analysis of British athletes’ performance to the exclusion of all else in the first half-dozen pages of the papers? Answer: Nowhere. You had to hunt for the coverage of the Paralympics. You’d almost think the media think disabled people aren’t newsworthy. An able-bodied man running 100m in 9.58 seconds is newsworthy, he’s trained for months and years to get that fast – and yet, a mostly blind man running the same distance in 10.46 seconds is not. He’s trained just as hard as the able-bodied athlete, probably more so, in more difficult circumstances, probably whilst having to do a lot more worrying about funding and transport and coaching and everything else that an athlete without a good sponsorship deal has to worry about. I say that 10.46 second time is more newsworthy than 9.58 seconds. Usain Bolt is a very good runner, a very fast runner, and he has achieved a great thing with his records, but I don’t think he’s achieved as much, nor can he ever achieve as much, as Jason Smyth did.

Problem 2 – Separate events. Why are there separate Games for the able-bodied and the disabled? We are constantly being reminded in this day and age that everybody is equal, that everybody has the same chances and opportunities. So why the separate Games? Yes, I know, it’s hardly fair to expect the likes of Walid Ktila and Paul Nitz to compete evenly against Usain Bolt in the 100m. But why have an entirely separate Games for those who are disabled? Why not include the various disabled classifications of the 100m sprint in the Olympic Games? Run them on the same day, before the able-bodied event. That way, you might have known who Jason Smyth, Walid Ktila and Paul Nitz are without clicking on the links. Why didn’t I link to Usain Bolt? Because you already know who he is – he broke the men’s 100m world record by a considerable margin, when showboating for the last 10m, with his shoes untied, and after a day spent watching TV and eating fried chicken. He holds about six world records, he’s done dozens of interviews and TV appearances, he’s about 6’4″, and he’s sponsored to the tune of somewhere in the region of $100m (and that’s all off the top of my head – after checking, he holds four personal world records and one team world record, is 6’5″, and his sponsorship is worth only about $30m). We already have identical events for women included in the Olympic Games (which also gain far less press attention than the mens’ events, and is another bag of worms to be opened), why not include identical events for disabled athletes in the Olympics? And don’t say, “because there wouldn’t be enough time for them.” That’s just bullshit, and there’s a simple chain to explain why.

A: Why not include events for disabled athletes in the Olympic Games?

B: Because there won’t be enough time for them to be included

A: Why isn’t there enough time?

B: Because the Olympic Games are two weeks long

A: You do know that the London Olympics of 1908 took something like 6 months, don’t you?

B: That was an early aberration, before everything was codified properly.

A: Alright then – why are the modern Olympic Games two weeks long?

B: Because the original Olympic Games were two weeks long

A: But these are the modern Olympics. Why don’t you just extend the time the Olympics Games run for?

B: Because the original Olympic Games were two weeks long

A: The original Olympics also had only male athletes, who had to be naked, and women weren’t even allowed to watch.

B: Yes, and?

A: Are you telling me the modern Olympics have to be based as closely as possible on the original Olympics, because that’s a rather prejudiced set up?

B: Of course not!

A: Well then – change things.

B: Things do change

A: Such as?

B: The events

A: So does that mean we’ll see a return of Pankration before the inclusion of a 100m event for disabled athletes?

B: What’s Pankration?

A: It’s where two guys sit facing each other with their ankles strapped to each other, and they try and punch each other to death with spiked gloves. Or are you talking about things like baseball and gliding?

B: Baseball!

A: Oh, right. Because adding a baseball league will really fit into the two-week time slot. If you can fit in baseball, you can fit in events for disabled athletes.

… and so on.

The thing is though, that in modern western society, everybody is constantly being told that everybody is equal. And not only do we have a regular competition to disprove that, but we have an entire separate competition for people who have to work harder to achieve the same results in proving who is better.

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One Response to Comparative

  1. Laura H says:

    As some one who has done the journalism side of the Paralympics, the media just can’t do it. The amount of sustained energy to do that becomes nuts. The break is actually needed, especially if you talk about volunteers. Then there are other issues. Take the 100 meter event. In the Olympics, there are two events: Men and women’s. In the Paralympics, there are 29 100 meter medals. There are also some Paralympic events which are not Olympic events. Take wheelchair rugby and goalball as two examples. Do you add new venues for these? Where do you put them? The more I talk to people involved with the Paralympics, the more I think there is a need for a separate Paralympics.

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