|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
The Paralympic Games has just begun. Greece will host more than 4,000 disabled athletes from over 140 countries. The way I see it, disabled athletes are no different from female athletes, black athletes, Asian athletes, or elite athletes. Yet the sponsors of the Olympics and the powerful 'brokers' who work behind the scenes to bring the events into everyone's home have proclaimed that the Games are over. It seems that they are indiscriminately minimizing the importance of the Paralympics. Non-disabled athletes to the front of the line and disabled athletes to the back of the line. What a shame.
What should have occurred - and I believe someday will - is that a slightly larger Olympic Village be constructed to accommodate disabled and non-disabled athletes under the same roof at the same time. This business of splitting the Olympics into a non-disability/disability event is not fair. If that's the case, then every other Olympics should begin with either the disabled or non-disabled athletes. Why should disabled athletes always have to compete after the able-bodied athletes have broken in the new living quarters and breathtaking sporting venues?
Olympic athletes deserve each other. They deserve to learn about each other's training techniques, common sports injuries, dealing with the pressure of winning and losing, learning how to peak at the right time, and all the other things that go into training for the most important event in an athlete's life. It's really a shame that the Olympic Planning Committee believes that our society is not ready to witness abled and disabled athletes from all over the world competing under the same roof at the same time. Wouldn't this be a great place to show the world how athletes from every race, creed, color, gender, and disability compete together in harmony? We already stagger the event by male/female, and all that would be necessary is adding a stagger for disabled male/female. The media already shows only the highlighted or glamour events (We didn't see very much of anything besides swimming, track and field, gymnastics, and an occasional basketball game, yet there are 28 competitive sports at the Olympics), so what difference would it make to add a few events with disabled athletes every evening? It won't be long when we'll be able to choose from a menu of what events we would prefer to watch rather than the TV producers dictating what we have to watch.
What makes the Olympic Games so enjoyable is the diversity of sports and athletes. And who would have thought 30 or 40 years ago that women's competition would be as exciting to watch as the men's competition? If the Olympic International Committee wants the competition to involve only the best, then women and men should compete in the same events and only those women who make the qualifying times should be allowed to compete. But somewhere in Olympic history, someone successfully argued that women should compete in their own individual events. Now we must do the same for Paralympians.
I suppose that in another 20 years or so, and hopefully sooner, the Olympic Committee will finally figure it out and host all the athletes together in the same village at the same time, allowing camaraderie and friendships to cut across all forms of athleticism, and demonstrating to the world the importance of inclusion. By presenting the disabled athlete on prime time in front of half the world, other countries will get to see just how far someone with a disability can come if given the opportunity. And maybe, just maybe, they will begin to pay more attention to the human rights in their own countries and provide people with disabilities the resources they need to become full members of their societies.