The Rio 2016 Paralympics are almost upon us, and following Team GB’s most successful Olympics since 1908, here’s hoping that the British Paralympians can live up to the high expectations set just four years ago in London. While most people I have spoken to about it have expressed great interest and excitement for this year’s Paralympics, I think it is important to reflect on why it is so vital that we get behind Team GB – and the Games in general – as much as possible. Here’s three reasons why you should watch.
Forget all the labels, they’re the best in the world at what they do.
Last week, my friend told me they prefer watching the Paralympics because unlike the Olympics, with its superstar athletes with super large sponsorship deals, the Paralympics hosts more ordinary everyday people, who have jobs alongside training for the biggest event of their lives. In this way, she was effectively saying the Paralympians are more relatable.
Switch over to Channel 4 and they will give you the opposite impression. Team GB’s Paralympians have been branded the ‘Superhumans’ and everyone has seen the ‘yes I can’ advert depicting various disabled athletes playing instruments, performing dance routines and completing death-defying stunts. These people are arguably presented as superior to ordinary athletes, because they not only demonstrate feats of incredible magnitude, but they do it all while dealing with a serious and life-altering disability.
My perception of Paralympic athletes falls somewhere in between these binary opposites. They are neither ordinary people, nor superhumans, they are simply incredibly talented athletes who have worked very hard to be where they are today and they deserve every second of publicity they are receiving.
The thing is, although my initial reaction to Channel 4’s superhuman slogan was mild annoyance – as hyperbole is often as harmful as trivialisation when it comes to forming stereotypes of disabled people – I do nevertheless understand why the branding is necessary for attracting consumers of the product. Selling the Games as a competition between ordinary people with varying disabilities, sorted into categories with confusing and completely non-descriptive labels such as S11 is objectively not a smart decision. Where is the unique selling point? Where is the intrigue? Marketing the Games as a battle between athletes with superhuman-like abilities which the Average joe could never dream of however, that attracts some attention. Attention equals sponsorship, sponsorship equals revenue, and revenue equals more investment into facilities, events and training programmes; all of which are key to the success of the Paralympics. At the end of the day I am willing to sacrifice the right to moan about what I feel is a slightly harmful and patronizing advertising campaign, because I know that when the event is broadcast thanks to the excellent platform it has been given by Channel 4, the athletes themselves will do the job of reversing those negative stereotypes perhaps perpetuated by the superhuman slogan.
Great Britain are scheduled to have a lot of success.
The official aim for Team GB is 103 medals and a second place finish behind the U.S. (coz ain’t no one gonna catch them). That is a huge target and as they proved in London, one that Paralympics GB are very capable of achieving.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t like to see their nation do well? With hopefully double the opportunities to stand up and scream as if you’ve always been this patriotic (despite probably not knowing that the national anthem has more than one stanza…), Brits have never had more reason to get behind the Paralympic Games.
Alongside the more famous faces like Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir and Sarah Storey, new up-and-comers such as 200m world record holder Libby Clegg, tennis star Gordon Reid and equestrian’s Lee Pearson will be hoping to shine in Rio.
It might just inspire you to get into sport.
Although as a rule I generally dislike the phrase ‘inspiring’ when tacked on to the disabled, I think the Paralympics is inspiring in the truest sense of the word. Just like the Olympics, the athletes showcased have worked incredibly hard to be where they are, and for me as a disabled person myself, it is fantastic to see their efforts being rewarded on such a global stage.
The achievements of disabled people are usually either shunted onto a secondary stage or elevated to ridiculous proportions and so it is genuinely refreshing to see the Paralympics embraced as an equal to its able-bodied counterpart.
Furthermore, with the recent revelation that the Rio organizing committee have actively dipped into the budget of the Paras in order to add more spectacle and grandure for those athletes without disabilities – an act which I find utterly disgraceful – it is extremely important that you show your condemnation of this act by tuning in and supporting the Games. The best way to prove that the Paralympics – and disability sport in general – is worth investing in is by getting behind it with full force and ensuring that it is regarded with the respect it deserves.
So there you go, don’t forget to tune into the opening ceremony on Wednesday 7th! I’m off to play blind tennis.