With the 20th Commonwealth Games now over, many will reflect on the success of the event in Glasgow. Despite not being talked about much, one of the most notable aspects for me was the seamless integration of parasports. Whether it be in the velodrome, on the athletic track or elsewhere, all the disabled athletes received as much support as their able-bodied partners. With this integration at the Commonwealth games now well-perfected (the first time this occurred was at the 2002 games in Manchester) and successful, the next step is to integrate the world’s biggest multi-sport event: the Olympic Games.
Currently, there is a separate Paralympic games after the Olympics for disabled athletes. Although this has been growing in recent years (the 2012 Paralympics was the first to surpass 2 million ticket sales), and successfully gives a platform for disabled people and the issues they face in the host country, more could be done. There is still a clear stigma around the world over disability, as seen in the news only this week with the horrific story of an Australian couple who abandoned one of their two new-born children with his surrogate mother, partially because he had downs syndrome.
By combining the Olympic and Paralympic games, disabled athletes would be seen on an equal footing as their able-bodied team mates all around the world. Although it may be hard to quantify, I believe this could have a huge, positive impact on how disabilities are viewed around the world; as well as help to educate people and encourage them to do more to assist disabled people.
If nothing else, it will encourage national sports bodies to put a greater emphasis on disabled sports. It may be a simplistic view, but countries want to win medals, and I am sure many would be happy to significantly increase the amount they put towards disabled sports if it meant they had a good chance of getting on the podium more often. This money will not only help the athletes directly, but those who support them. This should lead to a significant increase in the money going to the industries who help disabled people and athletes.
There are obviously some logistical issues that may result from this change. The primary problem would be the increase in capacity required. Currently, the Paralympics use the same facilities as the Olympic Games where possible, but not at the same time. Combining them would require a much larger infrastructure, especially in terms of transport and the athlete’s village. But this could also become a positive, with host cities having to create lots of new facilities which can be used by people with disability, something which is not considered when planning new building projects in many countries. Instead of simply adapting facilities just for the Paralympics, the organizers would have to consider the impact on everyone from start to finish, hopefully resulting in greater facilities for people with a disability.
I am also confident that the change would have no effect on ticket purchases. Although the public may show more interest in able-bodied events to start with, by integrating sports and para-sports into the same session where possible (as did occur at the Commonwealth games), overall interest would not be effected. Glasgow 2014 showed us that disabled athletes still get a great reception and support from the crowd, something which I’m sure would continue at an integrated Olympics.
This is clearly something which would take significant planning, and is certainly not an option for Rio 2016 (even Tokyo 2020 is probably too soon). But in an age where rights for everyone are improving, but still need work; taking the significant step of integrating Paralympic sport into the main games would do a lot for the rights of disabled people around the world. Sport has been host to many political messages over the year. Let it be used as a force for good again by making one simple, yet impactful change.
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