by STELLA YOUNG
Every four years when the Olympics and subsequent Paralympics make their way into our lounge rooms, we have an old, familiar conversation.
People suddenly get taken with this idea that we should run both events at the same time, and if we did that then disabled people would be equal. It’s as though they notice disability inequality for the first time, and they are outraged, dammit. “People with disabilities are just as important!” they cry. “They shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens!”
Funny how so many of these people who sit up and take note of disability inequality through the lens of sport manage to ignore it for the four years in between. Funny too is the way these people latch on to this “new idea” as though they’re the first ones to ever have it.
Punch intern Samuel Clench last week posed the question of why we can’t run both events together.
“If it’s possible to bring disabled athletes into the Olympics, and it is, then there is no question that it should be done.”
It would seem to me that there are, in fact, some questions. What about the question of how Paralympians and other athletes with disabilities feel about the games? Those on the inside of the show should get a say, surely.
Expert commentator and retired Paralympic athlete Heath Francis disagrees with Clench that it would better to run both events together.
“The Paralympics are all about us; we would be lost in the background of the Olympics,” Francis says.
“The Paralympics is a stand-alone event and we don’t need to be part of another event to make us valued or watchable. Not to mention the logistics of holding both events at once. It would just be impossible.”
When we hear athletes say there’s nothing like the Paralympics, they don’t just mean the competition. Last Tuesday I popped into the athlete’s village and what I found absolutely took my breath away. Or, more accurately, I felt a familiar kind of release in my chest, one that I’ve felt before at disability conferences and events. It can only really be described as the moment you realise you’re in an environment where you can truly be yourself; the feeling of being among your people, if you will.
Perhaps Kurt Fearnley put it best when he tweeted a photo of the Paralympic dining hall, accompanied by the caption:
“Paralympic dining hall: Disabilities as far as the eye can see and not a staring face in the joint. #AcceptanceHeaven.”
Acceptance heaven, indeed. What I felt in the athlete’s village on Tuesday is enough to make me want to find myself a sport, or at least a way to participate in the Paralympics. (I wonder if the APC needs a team knitter?)