Why the Paralympics Deserves to be Different

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The reception Oscar Pistorius received on completing the 400m was unheard of for anyone coming eighth in a semi-final

A few weeks ago, one man challenged everyone’s perceptions of disabled sport, and whether, with the appropriate adaptations made, Olympic sports should routinely be open to those who are currently Paralympic athletes.

This is, naturally quite a sloped debate, after all, there isn’t much reason why sports should not be played by athletes who are doing clearly comparable activities, as, in this example research has shown that a sprinter can fairly run against a sprinter who is an amputee or double amputee on prosthetic legs. Only a minority of people disagree with this sentiment, but this is not a suggestion to merge what are two totally different events each with a different focus.

Oscar Pistorius has achieved something special in becoming the first person to compete at both the Olympics and Paralympics, and this was apparent from the reception he had. While not even coming close to winning against his able-bodied competitors, he got a reception from both the crowd and his competitors which was truly second to none. Had he Gone on to win the gold, that would have made him the greatest 400m runner in the world, no more or less than the accolade the winner has received.

Whoever may win the Paralympic gold in their classification over 400m will (after all, there are nearly 30 of them), will have achieved something different: they become the person who has won in their specific classification, overcoming whatever impairment they have to compete and then become the best athlete on a similar playing field.

These are two, different, incomparable achievements.

There is also a very real danger if the events were to merge, and that is almost creating additional hostility towards disabled athletes. The Paralympics works around a complex set of classifications, and there is no fair way to get away from this. In order to merge the gamesmen these would need to stay. They will need to be merged with the current Olympic model, where there is one winner, so “No Impairment” will become a classification in its own right.

If that happened, the Olympic ethos of “Higher, Faster, Stronger”, a quest to identify the best person in the world at each sport will become obsessed with the “No Impairment” class, and the achievement will stop being that someone is an Olympic medalist, and become that they are a “No Impairment” medalist, which inherently stops situations like Pistorius in the Olympics in their tracks, and leads to the achievement being not to be the best in a specific sport, but the best at a specific sport and to not have an impairment.

When not having a disability becomes an achievement, society goes back 50 years to when Stoke Mandeville’s spinal injury patients were seen as a lost cause, before the inception of the then dubbed “Parallel Olympics”.

One final observation, (without touching on the logistical impossibility of trying to hold both events simultaneously) is that, Channel 4 has done a very good job of having a newfound disability focus in preparation for being the Paralympic broadcaster for the first time, which, coupled with the biggest advertising campaign in Channel 4 history, has sparked more public interest and excitement for the Paralympic games than ever.

With any luck, this will translate into a greater than ever public understanding and awareness of the disabled community, which is what our country needs right now.

So, for the sake of disability sport being looked upon positively, the Olympics and Paralympics cannot be replaced with a single event.

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