Libbie, sports enthusiast and rare disease advocate, shares why she believes the Olympic and Paralympic Games should be combined into one large sporting event, bringing together athletes of all abilities.
As the 2016 Olympic Games draw to a close in Rio de Janeiro, the city is already beginning preparations for the second international mega-event of the year: the Paralympic Games. The Paralympics began in 1948, around 2,700 years after the origins of the Olympics, to provide competitive activity for Word War II veterans. It has since grown to a global event that occupies the world stage every fourth September.
The Games are called the ‘Paralympics’ because they are run in parallel with, and are modelled upon, the Olympic Games. But should the two Games continue to be run in parallel, and could they instead be integrated? By ‘integrated’, I do not mean the athletes would compete against each other in the same events – that would, in most cases, be too technically complicated and controversial. Instead I mean the hundreds of individual sporting events across the two Games could be integrated, organised in a mixed timetable with, for instance, David Weir’s wheelchair 800m event followed by Mo Farah’s running 10,000m event.
My main reason for suggesting this is that the two Games are very similar, particularly when you consider their purpose, who is taking part, and how the athletes are categorised. Both are an international competition between elite athletes who have trained exceptionally hard in their respective sports, excelling above the rest. Both involve extreme physical exertion and/or skill. Both bring together representatives from countries around the world to fight for some the most prestigious and coveted medals available. Both have athletes that leave their families for months on end to train. Both require specialist equipment, often designed to fit the individual athlete.
Both are also split into categories according to ability. Boxing at the Olympics alone is split into 10 categories for men and 3 categories for women according to weight, ranging from super-heavyweight to light-flyweight. This is to ensure fair and safe competition between athletes, otherwise it would be a very one-sided and dangerous fight. Similar categories are seen in weightlifting, taekwondo, judo, wrestling and rowing – and of course all sports (bar mixed team events and equestrian) are split according to gender-related abilities. Each of these categories is a separate sport, with a bronze, silver and gold medal up for grabs.
Similarly, Paralympic sports are split into categories according to the specific impairment of the athlete. Each sport has a different categorisation system. For instance, cycling is split into handcycle, tricycle and bicycle for different types of impairment, each of which is further split into grades according to severity of the impairment. Powerlifting, however, is categorised according to weight alone, split into 10 weight categories.
When both the Olympics and Paralympics are already split according to physical ability, it is difficult for me to understand why there is still an ability-based line that separates the events into two entirely different Games. And with this separation comes a huge funding and media coverage disparity. It serves to emphasise separation from the mainstream or ordinary, with some even arguing that the Paralympics do a disservice to athletes. They say it often leads to patronising coverage and ‘inspiration-porn’ that highlights their disability more than their athletic status, and that it somehow indicates their achievements are at once greater and lesser. If the same were to happen according to gender categories, there would probably be a much greater fight for equality.
There would certainly be challenges if the two Games were combined. This article featured in the Guardian explores the logistical nightmare that would occur (e.g. the Olympic village would have to at least double in size) and the risk that the Paralympic events would lose visibility against ongoing Olympic events.
I, however, believe that combining the Games is worth these costs and risks. If they were combined sensibly with the Paralympic events taken seriously at every stage, I believe it would lead to greater coverage and interest in the Paralympic events, giving all sports the recognition they deserve as sports and all competitors the recognition they deserve as athletes.
Doing so might lead to better funding, resources and opportunities for often overlooked sports. With a combined medal table, countries who normally finish high in the Olympic medals table would have to invest considerably in their Paralympic athletes in order to maintain their top rankings.
I’m certainly not the first to put forward an opinion on this. A few Google searches will find others asking and debating the same question, with a huge range in opinions. Having taken the arguments put forward into consideration, I personally would love to see all athletes parade side-by-side at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games, as representatives of their country who have fought hard to excel in their respective sports.[/two-third][one-third][/one-third][/row]