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Equal but...not

Friday, August 31, 2012
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So...the olympics ended. 'Bout what? Three weeks ago?

For us here in the antipodes, the big story was the lack of gold medals. We were hoping to achieve a top-five place in the medal tally, and instead spent about three quarters of the tournament battling Aruba and the West African People's Republic of Mbombo for 967th place.

So I clicked CNN yesterday expecting to find that the entire GOP elite had been flattened in Tampa by Isaac, or that a supervolcano was set to kill us all in a hail of fire and destruction (my word, it's true!) and instead, came across a different story. The London 2012 Paralympics have been opened.

With their own opening ceremony and everything! I didn't even know the Paralympics had an opening ceremony. I find this interesting.

Firstly, they got eighty thousand people to the opening ceremony. I'd never have thought. I repeated this number to Mrs Speech several times. Eighty thousand? Really? Every paralympic/disabled/handicapped/'special' sporting event/ceremony/etc that I have ever seen on tv has been watched in person by roughly the same number of people who like to dip their celery in chocolate milk.

But they got eighty thousand. Good on them.

"That was my destiny! And you cheated me out of it!"
I have no dog in this particular fight. I have never watched a Paralympic event or actually, a disabled sporting event of any kind. As a matter of taste, the number of able-bodied sports I will watch is also limited. I refuse to watch much of anything that takes place on or in the water, or involves a horse, or people running, walking funny or riding a bike for long periods of time.

I am, however, highly uncomfortable with patronising disabled people. I cannot imagine how hard it is to live without limbs, sight, hearing or any other basic human function. I'm not sure how I would deal with the daily difficulties of getting around, brushing my teeth, or in general my terrible klutz-iness.

So I find it perturbing that paralympians have their own unique sporting event. And that it's held so long after every able-bodied athlete has fled back to the four corners, that no-one really is focussed on sports anymore. There are supervolcanos to watch for, y'know.

I'm sure at some point in some highly able-bodied IOC meeting, someone jumped to the grand conclusion that it would make paralympians feel awfully special if we just held a whole other olympics for them. But let's call it the Paralympics. Who cares if it sounds like a sporting event for people who jump out of airplanes (which I might just watch).

This is the ultimate in misguided empathy. Good fences do not good neighbours make, in all circumstances. I won't cast aspersions on anyone's intentions, because for all I know those IOC chaps may have had the best for disabled competitors. But every artificial fence that is erected between one demographic and another only serves to isolate them, and us.

I once enquired about living on campus at the University of Queensland. One dorm I phoned, I believe it was St Leo's College, a gentleman with off-handed faux courtesy and an overdeveloped sense of je ne sais quoi, informed me that I was free to apply to live in the dorm, but it was for Roman Catholics, so...

I was not a Roman Catholic. In fact, I'll eat my celery dipped in chocolate milk before I bow to a man in a ridiculous pointy hat.

Every artificial fence that is erected denies someone.

I'm not on an equality crusade. I in fact very much dislike the western contemporary equal-rights fetish which is currently being manifested principally vis a vis gay marriage (which will happen regardless of what we Christians do to try to stop it).

But I'm even more opposed to tokenism. Symbols without real depth. What's the point? Why did the RNC choose to have Sikhs lead them in prayer at the nomination convention? Will Paul Ryan now settle into a life of turban-topped campaigning until the election?

Symbols without real depth are meaningless. Most thinking people can see through patronisation. I imagine disabled athletes live with it a fair bit.

So, why not integrate the Paralympics with the Olympics?

Quad rugby. Ouch.
Seriously, where's the issue? So the circus goes for three weeks instead of two. You deal with a few more athletes, and a few more tourists. And you make people with a disability feel like Olympians.

Disabled sports instantly gains the cachet of the highest-profile sporting event in the world, and the benefit of integrated sponsorship and coverage of disabled sports intertwined with Usain Bolt jogging the last forty metres because trying as hard as you can is so...trying.

The Olympics in turn, gets more participation at the fan level from tourists who are already gee-d up about the Olympics and thus might view wheelchair rugby as a legitimate sport and not something 'they' only 'play' in 'their' games. And with more fan participation comes more money, right?

It can make money, and has the benefit of being good policy.

All it really needs is will. I'm surprised in this day of demanding our rights (see above) that the disabled sporting community hasn't popped its head up and said "excuse me" a bit more on this issue.

Surely it hasn't escaped them that they are being excluded from legitimacy as a result of amateur empathy?
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