Here’s my first report for 5 News, exploring the idea of a Paralympic Legacy and what it means to disabled people.
It was an amazing day working with great people, and fingers crossed they ask me back. Watch this space.
Today I did something that I almost never do. So rare an event that it dragged my wife away from her Physics studies to find out what was going on, and as she has a paper due in three days she hasn’t got time to waste. You see today I watched… SPORT! I sat on my sofa and watched the athletics. The Men’s 400m semi final. I felt I had to, not as I am in anyway interested in it, or even because it was the such a historic event, with Oscar Pistorius being able to compete with non-disabled athletes on an equal level. No the driving force behind my going against my deep dislike of organised sport was the fact that the IAAF, sports commentator and some athletes were against Mr. Pistorius competing as they felt he had an unfair advantage.
Let’s just dwell on that a minute shall we? A man with no legs, in a top level running race has an unfair advantage. A man that to train harder, and who has had to learn an entirely new way of running and balancing has an unfair advantage as he uses specially designed artificial legs. Forget the fact all the other runners were using a fully working body created by millions of years of evolution and honed by training to be at the peak of physical perfection and Mr. Pistorius is a member of a section of the world’s community who no one could describe as having an unfair advantages. He has worked hard to be able to compete to this level, and as well as the training that all the runners had to go through I am sure that Mr. Pistorius has had to spend time learning elements of running that come naturally to the rest. Not being a big runner, I can’t be sure but I imagine that the blades that he runs on must take some getting used to. As well as balance and reading how each step will effect his gate and direction, he has had to learn how to feel that track through his add-on legs. I know how long it took me to be able to use my chair as I see fit, so I can only guess at the skill it takes to thunder round an athletics track, racing at such high speeds in competition. Unfair advantage my arse.
But why would anyone make this kind of claim? Well I think it is simple. No one wants to be bested by a member of society that they see as less than them. It wasn’t that long ago that people all of the world were very upset when they saw whites being bested by black people. Up until more recently boys and girls could not play school football together. Disabled people are the last group to be so excluded in the world of sport that we have our own events and ruling bodies. Why is it the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? Why not one fantastic event where all competitors are equal and if they can compete against each other, like Oscar Pistorius, then all the better? There might even be a move towards designing new sports that allow disabled and non-disabled people to play together in one team. Mixed basketball, or whatever. (Don’t ask me, haven’t a clue)
Now I could go off on one now, and rave on about how sport is filed with people obsessed with perfection and competition, but that obvious. That’s what sport is about, especially at this level. The mentality behind world class sport means that these people, whether they are taking part or running the events, are precisely the wrong kind of people to make decisions on whether disabled people can take part in a mainstream sporting event. They do not see it as a step forward in equality, or even as opening up their sport to a wider audience (though they even got me today!). They are all about winning (oh and the money from the TV viewing rights). Everyone who is involved with sport at this level has got there by focusing on themselves, and being selfish. So who cares about creating a better world, a fairer world, if it might mean they don’t win. So keep the fast cripple out. He might beat me.
This why I think it is so sad that sport is being put forward to disabled young people as a way of gaining self confidence and even to getting on in the word. A whole generation of young disabled people will be entering the world after the 2012 games with the idea that sport will allow them to make something of themselves, but not see that it is the very past time they enjoy that is playing a part in keeping them down. All sports should be opened up, whether it is mainstream or disability based. Everyone should be able to take part, and we should all be playing together. Then maybe I might even take something up.
Before I go, I’ve just read that the IAAF have ordered Oscar Pistorius that he can only run in the first leg (excuse the pun) of the 4x400m relay race, as his might injure the other runners with his blades. He answered the ruling “I’ve run in many relays in different legs and I’ve never had a problem or an incident.” Personally I start the race and then run off track, find a member of the IAAF and shove the baton somewhere the sun don’t shine.
I would like to say sorry for being away for a while (mad busy) and thanks to everyone who commented on my last blog. I’m so glad that there are people who do believe that how we are portrayed in the media is as important as just being portrayed.
Part of why I have been busy recently is that I was attending a conference put on by the 2012 games organisers around diversity. During the day long round of back slapping and self congratulations I discovered something that helped explain why so much of the recent portrayal of disabled people in the media has been so wide of the mark. Both the Olympic and the Paralympic games have core values, that are used the publicise the games, and to help the public understand them. The three Olympic values are “Respect”, Excellence” and “Friendship”, while the Paralympic have four core values. They are “Equality”, “Determination”,(they go down hill from here), “Inspiration” and… “Courage”. No wonder our media is full of brave super cripple stories, if one of the biggest events in the disability calender is promoting it’s members as inspirational and courageous. How the hell can we get this equality they calm to want if the two games have such different values? Who the hell decided that on the Paralympic values?
I found myself lecturing the conference on how offended I was at “courage” and “inspiration” being a core values of the Paralympics. I am sure you all understand why but I shall explain to any readers who don’t get it. Using the word courage when discussing disability creates the perception in the able bodied that anyone living with a disability is some how brave. Much of the discrimination faced by disabled people is due to an unspoken fear of disability and the possibility of becoming disabled. Part of this fear comes from the doubt that those feeling afraid could find the courage to cope if they found themselves disabled. Yet the truth is that us disabled people aren’t some kind of super hero breed. Let’s face it, what choice do we have other than get on with it? I suppose we could pay a visit to Dignitas, but other than that living with a disability is more pragmatism that bravery. Of course we can show courage, but only in the same way a every body else can.
But courage doesn’t even fit with Paralympians. They might have dedication and commitment, and show excellence but not courage. Giving your life over to pushing your body to be the best you can be at a sport has no real elements of courage that I can see. They might be inspirational, if you want to be a sporty type, but for people like me who find all sport truly tedious, they just seem to be bit too tied up with themselves. Personally, I have found that most disabled sports people are so focused on sporting achievement that they have no real interest in things like politics or how what they do effects other disabled people. The fact that have dedicated themselves to an event that uses such offensive and damaging language to describe them proves just how out of touch with disability politics they are. Not one has gone public with their complaint or made a stand in any way. It’s left, yet again, to mouthy non sporty gits like me.
There is proof that is starting to effect other disability events too. On the website of this year’s Naidex it announces that visitors can “Hear inspirational stories from role models beating their disabilities”. Argh!!!!! Let’s not even mention that TV news standard about injured soldiers climbing something or other.
So, please dear reader, don’t just post your comments to me. Make your voice heard. Mail and write to anyone who uses any language that you find offensive. Phone in to radio and TV talk shows, complain to newspapers and magazines and blog away on the subject. Let’s make a stand, or a sit at least. I know that I shall be pursuing any avenue I can think of and bugger my career. I have never been able to keep my mouth shut to get myself on, and nor shall I. I have no desire to look back and see a world that has gone backwards and know I did nothing to try to stop it. No I’ll let the Paralympians do that.
So guess I won’t be invited to the Opening Ceremonies now, eh?