So the Paralympics is drawing to a close and the big question is, was it all worth it? The games certainly didn’t get off to a good start. The entire Russian team was banned and there were huge questions over whether Brazil was going to be able to fund it. Once it got started, though, all these problems seemed to die away. The African states who were threatened with not receiving their travel money received their funds; the banned Russian team were quietly forgotten. Even the empty seats were filled when the Brazilians wisely reduced the ticket price so that citizens could actually afford to get in.
I started this blog post fully meaning to say no, it’s not worth it and that the Paralympics should be merged with the Olympics. Although disability sport isn’t a topic I’ve ever given a lot of thought to, for a long time I’ve supported an inclusive rather than a segregated approach as I do with all (or most) aspects of disability. At a fundamental level, segregation of disabled people is little different than segregation on grounds of race or gender. If women’s events are included in the Olympics, why not disabled people’s? People with disabilities are being marked out as inferior by their very separation. If we’re going to have commercialised disability sport at all it ought to be part of the main Olympics.
The Paralympics began in post-war Britain and at that time institutionalised segregation was the norm. But unlike other parts of British life it hasn’t been undone.
In the course of writing this blog post, though, and more particularly watching the enthusiasm of Brazil for its own games, I’m no longer so sure a segregated games isn’t for the best. It does seem likely that as a standalone event the Paralympics has a greater social impact. That’s likely to be particularly true in host cities where the necessity of staging a large event and welcoming lots of elite international disabled athletes can hardly fail to have some kind of positive effect. Also, in those countries like Britain that do choose to televise the games, the media coverage is surely greater than it would otherwise be.
In the ideal society I still believe the Paralympics and Olympics would be merged, but I’m not convinced that ideal point will ever be reached. Disabled people will never really be understood by most people. I’ll write more about why I think that is the case in future blog posts. But for now the best we can do is put aside the ideals and opt for what works best in the real world.
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