30 January 2011
The final day of the World Paralympic Athletics Championships in Christchurch ended in chaos and confusion with top athletes refusing to race on a marathon course they describe as unsafe.
Here are a number of issues . . . .
• By not closing roads off to traffic, are organisers forcing athletes to participate in a different sport- more like an ‘extreme’ version of wheelchair marathon racing with the added task of having to dodge cars- more of an achievement to finish rather than a sporting contest?
• Athlete withdrawals devalue the competition, and winning becomes less of an achievement.
• There are issues of fairness to athletes who have prepared for a contest under a specific set of terms and conditions to be given a new set of parameters and tests that arguably are not related to their sport.
• Compromising athlete safety and the de-valuing of a world championship event may also discourage potential sponsors or spectators from investing in the sport.
The Bigger Picture . . .
There is a popular belief that the Olympic games and the Paralympic games run equally beside each other. However, in many ways this is a misconception.
Separate but Equal?
For practical reasons, the Olympic Games and the Paralympics cannot be incorporated as one event. For instance, stadiums have certain capacities and cannot cater of spectators for both games. Additional problems include the necessary technological modifications in facilities and equipment and the unrealistic time scale that both games would require. For this reason the games are held separately whereby the Paralympic games run two weeks after the Olympics. Arguably this timescale subtracts the focus from the Paralympic games as an after-thought. A possible alternative is to hold the Paralympic games as its own event in a separate year.
Recent literature has also explored idea’s that separate cannot be equal. This is evident, for example, in the categorisation of events according to gender (baseball, softball, synchronized swimming, boxing). Nevertheless, there are also strong arguments for the view that maintaining the Paralympics will lead to a reduction in the inequalities between able bodied and disabled bodied competition.