Why not run the Olympics and Paralympics together?
The Paralympic Games begin in London tomorrow night, without any of the fuss or media fanfare which accompanied the Olympics at the beginning of the month.
Disabled athletes are being robbed of the spotlight. Olympic broadcasters Foxtel and Channel Nine are not even showing the Paralympics, leaving the ABC to run a few hours of daily highlights instead.
Our Paralympians must be used to being ignored and undervalued. At the televised Olympic swimming trials earlier this year, disabled athletes were forced to compete during the ad breaks. How insulting is that?
They deserve better. These people are just as worthy of our respect and admiration as any other Olympic athlete. It takes a special kind of mental strength to win a Paralympic marathon with a flat tyre, as Kurt Fearnley did in Athens.
The nine-time Paralympic medallist trekked the Kokoda Trail too, and won the New York Marathon after breaking a rib midrace. For athletes whose stories are usually classed as “feel-good”, these guys spend an awful lot of time feeling bad.
At the moment, Paralympians must compete weeks after the Olympics have ended, when public excitement has abated and most of the media pack has left. That is unfair. It would be far better to integrate disabled events into the main Olympic schedule.
Everyone would get to share the same stage and Paralympians would finally be given the sort of attention that they deserve.
The logistics would be simple enough. In athletics, for instance, Olympic events usually run for several hours in the morning and 90 minutes or so in the evening. Organisers have more than enough time to run Paralympic races in between.
If it’s possible to bring disabled athletes into the Olympics, and it is, then there is no question that it should be done. These people have worked just as hard as anyone, and their achievements should be properly recognised.
Some of Australia’s most successful athletes are Paralympians. Why should James Magnussen get more attention than a disabled swimmer like Matthew Cowdrey, who has already won eight gold medals? Looking crash hot in Speedos should only get you so far.
Plenty of spectators would be more than keen to watch disabled athletes in action, given the chance. Paralympic tickets in London are expected to sell out, with well over two million sold already.
Yet many in the media still seem to assume that nobody is interested. As a result, our Paralympians continue to be short-changed.
That needs to stop. Let disabled athletes compete in their own events during the Olympics, not weeks later when everyone has stopped caring. They’ve earned the right to be on the same stage as everyone else.
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