I am trying to be rational here, but the sheer weight of scorn thrown at me for even daring to query the logic of some of the various game events of the Paralympics may make me react in a way I didn’t intend.
My starting point comes from looking at the events in the main Olympics and is based on a fundamental question,
“Should we add every “sporting” type event or should some be excluded?”
Many events are currently excluded and many want to be there – Golf is going to be in the Rio Olympics in 4 years time.
Golf is an intriguing game, where a disabled competitor won a legal case to be allowed to use a buggy (as used by lazy or elderly golfers in every American country club) in professional competition. The reason the other pros wanted to exclude him was to do with the notion of golf being a sport that requires the fitness to walk the course as well as drive, chip and tap the ball in the hole.
In general it was argued that the evidence showed that using a cart allows an average golfer a 2-3 shot advantage over a round. One of the behind the scenes concerns was that this case failing would scupper Golf’s bid to become an “Olympic sport”. Turns out they need not have worried. This legal rule that allowed a cart to be used applied due to the PGA tour being seen as a commercial enterprise for the purpose of entertainment of the public, and not a private club.
You might think that this means that disabled and able bodied athletes can, at least in some particular cases, compete on an equal basis in the forthcoming Rio Olympics – but this is extremely rare, one might say uniquely so to date.
Oscar Pistorious, (pictured top right) or “the Harrison Ford Runner” as he is affectionately known, runs in the main Olympics, the able bodied Olympics… but he is a disabled athlete who has, and will again, run in the Paralympics as well.
He didn’t “win” the main Olympics, but let’s just suppose… that he won a gold medal in both events.
Which one would mean most to him? (I think I know) and,
How will his fellow competitors feel?
a) in the main Olympics, and
b) in the Paralympics?
and, more importantly, how will sponsorship and professionalism make other runners behave?
I love both Olympics and will be cheering as loud as the next arm chair fan, but I have to ask, Why do we become so blandly, or sometimes quite hawkishly, unquestioning about this rather weird situation?
There are many people saying that the whole thing has become overblown, too many venues and too many Olympic events. If we are not going to include every game/sport then that means we can exclude whichever events “we” (via the Olympic governing body) like, Yes?
I may be accused of being a purist and a spoil sport, but would still rather see some events excluded, and Golf not introduced next year. The sitting still events strike me as eligible for the chop in the main Olympics, shooting with pistols, shooting with air pistols, shooting with rifles, rapid fire pistols, – (these could all be better replaced with arm wrestling, but let’s not add more.)
Then we get onto question two:-
If we ARE going to have these sitting still events, why should there be a separate Paralympics event for wheelchair users who are excellent at these sitting down sports?
You can fire arrows and pistols just as well from a wheelchair – Some would say sitting down is actually an advantage in archery and shooting. Certainly the prone rifle shooters are expected to be more accurate than those doing it standing up.
Would it be different if the disabled athletes actually became better archers than the main Olympic winners?
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson could (still) beat any able bodied athlete in the marathon… Oh but hang on, in this instance a wheelchair is a definite advantage…
It gets confusing.
We keep these events separate of course, in the London marathon the wheels group set off first and finish way ahead of the runners. But in comparing the two consecutive Olympic games, does it mean that, if we reach genuine equal status of the two events, we are at risk of having people slicing off a leg so they can win a gold in the wheelchair event that they couldn’t win when they were fully bodied? is it similar to drugs cheating at that point? Pertinent to the fact of my getting angry reactions when I raise these issues is that Jimmy Carr was slammed by the correctness brigade whilst many in the military disabled group enjoyed his “joke“.
I have yet to hear a winning argument that covers Pistorious’ ability to win gold medals in both Para and main Olympics at the same event…Do we accept it on the basis that deep down we do not feel he has a realistic chance in the main event?
I have a problem with the desperation of everyone to do the right thing and pretend that the Paralympics is somehow equal in importance to the main Olympics. In my opinion this, demonstrably, can never be so…
“Faster, higher, stronger, …but with special points for getting half way there, only with a physical handicap.”
…is not an Olympic motto. If I was Olympic champion of anything I’d say I was the best in the world, a Paralympian Gold medal winner can only say they are the best in the, massively smaller, similarly disabled grouping, world. Muhammed Ali was world heavyweight champion; the world lightweight champion is most definitely NOT “the greatest”.
However great it is that disabled people get to have a games that makes them feel great (and I do approve of that) I find it deeply blinkered and patronising to pretend that, for example, the handicap ratings for swimming, mean that the event is “as good as” the, scratch start, all comers event that is the true Olympics.
I give you the range of categories and their degree ranges in Swimming –
Classification is divided into three groups: S1 to S10 are those with physical impairment. S1 will have the most severe impairment and an S10 a lesser impairment, for example a hand amputation. S11 to S13 are those with a visual impairment. S11 will have little or no vision, S12 can recognise the shape of a hand and have some ability to see, S13 greater vision than the other two classes but less than 20 degrees of vision. S14 is for learning difficulty athletes.
All this has been gone over by experts in order to try and make for “fairness” and equality of opportunity – two very noble and essential principles to be pursued in life…
but we don’t see the Paralympic swimming winner being the one that is first to touch the finishing end… why not?
We could make everyone finish their swimming events at the same time if we started them from staggered places in the pool according to their handicap class, but that means staggered starting positions, in water. That would be very hard to make “fair” and yet also enforceable. So the class system analyses their ability, before separating them into the large range of groups. A special group for one-armed boxers anyone?
There is, after being in, then banned, a class in the Paralympics for those with a learning disability, based on IQ. (This method of judging the degree of disability has been taken out of social services approaches to eligibility, and rightly so, it doesn’t work). The fact is we are all on a spectrum when it comes to one major form of accepted learning disability, autism. From the behaviourally dangerous people in special hospitals – to Michael Phelps, a man with a massively advantageous physique but also with ADHD – should he be given a grade to swim in the Paralympics so he can add yet more to his all time record collection of 22 Olympic medals?
Clearly this is an absurd idea – and yet, under slightly altered rules based on the currently used logic, it could easily be justified, this is how close we are to absurdity. Just wait and see, if someone with blades, like Pistorius, does ever win the main Olympic event, you can expect a review of whether the blades give an unfair advantage.
What we appear to have in the swimming, with all starting together in their various class sections, is people with a heavy degree of amputation finishing fifth but getting gold, while a sight-impaired person with a lesser limb loss finishes first but misses out on the medals. The rules have been set and we accept them as fair, because the committee says so, (though you should hear the classification arguments, and appeals against rulings, in the qualifying assessments). Don’t even start to look at “The Special Olympics” – what? you haven’t heard that the intellectually disabled have their own version? google them.
Competition regulation in sports is fastidious about avoiding the cheats, the “unfair” advantage; drugs, shark skin swimsuits, the rules on these things get constantly reviewed to see if Marmite has a hidden stimulant in it, or a pill that helps your blood pressure gives you an unfair advantage. The goal being, not to make everyone have the same ability but, to avoid additional aids giving an unfair advantage.
No one is ready for deliberate mutilation achieving the same ends. “Boosting” by breaking a bone in a paralysed limb to give an adrenalin rush that helps the whole body is rumoured to be a Paralympian trick. This is going to become a serious problem as professional benefits accrue to disabled athletes too
There is nothing “wrong” with the current approach, and I am very much open to argument here, please do demonstrate exactly why I am wrong to seek a discussion on these points above,
…but don’t tell me that the Paralympics are now on a par with the actual Olympics – I will immediately start to think the politically para-correct blinkers have been welded on.