The Paralympics: not everyone is game

The Paralympics: not everyone is game

With the haul of gold, silver and bronze medals in Rio mounting almost by the hour, there are those disabled people who feel that this festival of sporting talent and excellence does not always serve the cause of disability rights. Mik Scarlet is one.

I was going to call this article ‘Why I Hate The Paralympic Games’ but if I’m honest that was a bit too strong. I don’t hate the games, but I have many issues with them and what they mean for disabled people.

The major issue I have with the Paralympics is that they exist at all. I have spent my life fighting for equality and inclusion yet everyone involved in the games wants to maintain their ‘parallel’ status to the Olympics. They claim it wouldn’t work if the two games where combined and the disabled athletes would be swallowed up with the Olympics. What this does is continue the perception that disabled people are different and other. How can we make people understand that disabled people are  equal and deserve to be included in all walks of life if the most famous example of disabled people proving what we can do is exclusive and special?

Some of the sports within the games, shooting and archery for example,  could be played by disabled and non-disabled competitors alike and even those sports which need categories and adaptation to ensure fair play should be played as part of an inclusive Olympic games.

I dislike organised sport as a whole as I do not like what dwells at its core, the drive to be the best through physicality. I cannot shake the worry that focusing on separating people based on their ability flies in the face of everything disabled people have been fighting against for decades. The Olympic and Paralympic Games have this at their hearts and reinforce society’s belief that ability can be measured in success. It’s strange that while the non-disabled community seem to be fine with admitting that most of them could never achieve the level of physical perfection and achievement of an Olympian, an expectation that disabled people could all do more if they just tried has developed alongside the public’s interest in the Paralympics. While I am sure that much of the blame for rise in hate crime towards disabled people can be laid at the feet of the government and media, I feel that it is also part of the legacy of the Paralympics and the perception that if disabled people aren’t seen to be able to surpass their impairments they can’t be trying hard enough and must be scroungers.

Another element which I find troubling is how some Paralympians seem unwilling or unprepared to use their status to highlight issues that disabled people face. I get that excelling at sport does not equal a deep understanding of disability politics, but I very much doubt that not one member of Paralympics GB has not been touched by discrimination in some way or other. Yet the pressure to be a positive role model that doesn’t rock the boat means that the media is filled with a flood of disabled people who seem OK with things the way they are. I don’t just blame the Paralympians as I am sure they are pressurised by the IPC, their national sporting bodies, the media and their sponsors but when it is so rare for so many disabled people to be so positively featured in the global media it’s a chance too good to miss. I wouldn’t expect all of them to make a protest, but surely more could break ranks and raise issues that the majority of disabled people face on a daily basis?

How the media, and especially Channel 4, are portraying both disabled people and the Paralympians themselves raise concerns. The concept the we are either Superhumans or doomed to experience No Go Britain paints disability as either triumph or tragedy, and is in no way the giant leap forward in portrayal they claim. The mantra “yes I can” dismisses those who can’t, or can’t without help, and ignores that many of the things disabled people just can’t do are not due to our impairments but due to the physical and attitudinal barriers thrown up in our way. No amount of positivity will make me walk up stairs for example.

This almost makes me believe not being on the Paralympic bandwagon is becoming an impairment in itself. Debate around the games gets little exposure as there is so much money behind things staying as they are. I don’t want a world without disabled people being able to compete in sport at the top level, but I also want an inclusive world where all disabled people get a chance to thrive and are seen by the wider society as all valid and equal, while being listened to about their own wants and needs.

9 thoughts on “The Paralympics: not everyone is game

  1. At last I’m not the only person who thinks this!! Thank you Mik for summing up my unease over the Paralympics so succinctly. I wonder how many people actually realise that the ‘para’ stands for parallel and not paraplegic- as I discovered all of my teaching colleagues believed!
    On three occasions I have had strangers feel the need to demonstrate their apparent enthusiasm and zeal for the games by blurting out ‘yes I can’ as I’ve wheeled myself along. Little do they realise they have actually publicaly announced ‘hey, you’re a cripple’ – just linguistics.
    The assumption that because I’m disabled I should support these Heroes of circumstance is driving me potty! I don’t like sport, I never have and I’d much rather go see a good play at the National or the latest exhibit at the V&A, but you’d think I was wearing a Vote Trump t-shirt judging by the looks I’ve received at expressing my disinterest at these games.
    Still, another week and it’s over (I think?) and the legacy that these games have brought towards equality will be… Ellie Symmonds (see I know one athlete) on Bake Off. But I never watch that either!

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  2. Sorry Mik if I’ve got this wrong but didn’t I see you commentating on the wheelchair rugby in London 2012?

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  3. Hello  Disability Now I agree with Mik Scarlet  that the Paralympics Games and  the rights of all disabled should be equal with each other, but I am also  sadden  about that the true disabled who were born with  there disabilities are not included in  the Paralympics as as they are  the true disabled there is   young people like my son, who also have learning disabilities and mobility  problems and  and lots of other problems. But they are all clever in sport and can do it as well but they were in not included  in any of the games, which is sad for them as they  want to be equal  also  with every one in stead they are abused and left out of everything. And  not treated  well by any one,  and we have watched this games and we have looked in the media for information on  some on the sports and the papers  give nothing only a tiny piece on  the sports page  it is not even half a page. So  things need to change  and give thought to the true and all disabled please as they are all good as well,  and deserve recognition.  Hope yo u have not minded me sticking my nose in but my son is 31 and disabled in  many things as he now gets older but he is a very good swimmer and  trys very hard to be excepted by all which is not easy  with how people are to day, as   any person could have a child born disabled and   that child  has to live there life  like every one they are no different as people  just for some reason  either  by a  nature or a doctors negligence as in my sons.  But they are very  talented and very good in sport. In my son he is   in the swimming as  less pressure on his legs.And other things Thank you for letting me write and sorry again for sticking my nose in. Best wishes Elizabeth Brown

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    1. Elizabeth, don’t take this the wrong way but what do you mean by the “true disabled”? You made very valid and intersting points, but I worry about more divide and rule within the disability community, we need to be coming together. Also I’m sure that the Paralympics has all kinds of people with disabilities? I do have some understanding on this as I have a 33 year old son, who was born with Cerebral Palsy and I myself became disabled in 2004, so I know the “born with disability” people are viewed and have differences with those of us who “acquired disability” at a different stage of life. Also where and how do you draw the line with this, it sounds like it’s yet another horrible competition?

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  4. Then it is down to people like you to ensure publicity is given to the rare occasions when disabled people achieve full equality. Paralympics exists because there are few areas in life where equality is achievable for disabled people. We need the Paralympics to set us up to be equal.

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  5. Well said ,I think a lot of people think that if those competing can do it ,then why can’t all the other disabled people push themselves to do more.unfortunately we all have different pain levels and different disabilities that a lot of people do not understand.I do well if I can shuffle from my chair to my wheelchair,and very often have pain all over my body ,so I can’t even venture out in my wheelchair .I’m not sure what people’s perception of me is ,but just going to my nurse appointment last week she wanted me to go for a chest x-ray at the hospital to which I said I’m sorry I can’t get there I don’t drive and taxis won’t take my wheelchair and I cannot travel on a bus because I feel sick and dizzy because they make you travel backwards.The nurse then said well how do you get about and I just said In my wheelchair ,so I didn’t get a chest x-ray.This is just an example of one of my days .I do know that the athletes train hard and push themselves, but we all do in our own way, if only people could see this.

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  6. Good article. Unlike Mik I am a sport fan, but I agree with a lot of what he has said, particularly around the “other” status it confers on disabled people, and the repugnant “superhumans” theme. I notice that there is no separate Olympics for people with a big body frame, even though are at a more significant physiological disadvantage when running than many of those athletically built Paralympians.

    Team GB is on course for a record medal haul, and let’s be honest, this is primarily because of the very large National Lottery funding – how else could we have 50% more medals than the USA! This is happening at a time when funding to help ordinary people (disabled and non-disabled) engage in sport is being slashed across the country, despite it’s known benefits for physical and mental health.

    Equality will be judged through the life chances of ordinary people, not through the Paralympics medal table.

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  7. I too perceive a problem with Paralympic success; I am disabled because M.E., which prevents my muscles recovering properly after effort, making mobility very restricted. Friends with M.S. are similarly affected. Yet one M.S. sufferer competed successfully in a women’s running event. So now those of us who can only manage a couple of yards can be judged as simply not ‘brave’, ‘determined’, ‘aspiring’, by society generally, medics or the DWP!

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