Blog Archives

Lessons From the Paralympics That Have Been Learnt and Can be Harnessed

The Paralympics have now been over for a bit over half a week. They were a top-class event put together by a masterful organising committee that also had responsibility for that other successful major event, the Olympic Games. Australia did so well. We put together the most successful touring performance of any Australian Paralympic team in history. That performance put us just two gold medals and a number of silver and bronze behind the strongly-funded hosts, Great Britain and just four golds and a handful of minor medals behind second placed Russian Federation.

But far from the phenomenal medal-winning performances and that of all the athletes across all nations involved, the London 2012 Paralympics have taught us some valuable lessons which can be harnessed to facilitate lasting change when it comes to the politics of disability.

Firstly, London put on an amazing show, on an unprecedented scale. These were the highest selling Paralympic Games ever. That mantle looks sure to be safe for quite some time too, perhaps never to be broken, ever. Nearly all of the two and a half million tickets allocated for the Games in London were sold, that makes a huge change to the usually relatively empty stands that our Paralympians tend to have to deal with every four years.

This says that London and Europe in particular “do” disability very well. It shows that people there view disability much more favourably than the much discriminated against and stigmatised disability community here in Australia. This could be a product of many things, but clearly disability and difference experiences a much greater degree of acceptance across Europe. That’s not to say things are great over there, disability has experienced cuts as the economic woes continue in that region.

A large contributing factor is probably how the welfare state is viewed in Europe as compared to Australia. There is less of a stigma to it in that region of the world. Those who rely on it are not discriminated against as much and are viewed as needing it and entitled to it, more so than Australians who tend to view welfare, even for those who cannot avoid it, with a level of disdain.

What the great spectator turnout at the Paralympics also shows is that disabled sport now appears, at least in Europe as just as elite and requiring just as much training, skill, ability and overall sporting prowess as the “able bods”.

But far from the lessons we can learn about Europe and how they view disability, we can also look at how they were viewed back here at home in Australia.

That story is almost as positive. As I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games from London consistently brought strong ratings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s digital channel, ABC2, as well as the original channel, ABC1. That means Australians were more than willing to give the Paralympics a go and the relatively consistent ratings throughout proves that people continued to be enthralled by the exploits of our elite athletes.

It shows that, as I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games have the ability to transform how we view disability here in Australia, not just the sporting abilities of those with impairments, but also how disability is looked at within the broader community.

The efforts of our Paralympians must be harnessed by disability advocates in order to continue to foment change in such a neglected sector of the community. It shows that the efforts of supporters of those with a disability may well not be in vain, that there is a positive view of disability that is growing across Australia. That growth may be slow, but it is something that can be pushed along just that little bit faster by displays such as the Paralympics. Stigmas are hard to break, some would say impossible, but you certainly couldn’t say that after the last two weeks.

Australia and the world is learning and learning fast about disability. But that means absolutely nothing if the lessons that have been learnt over the last two weeks are not actually used to further the interests of people with a disability. It would be nice if Australia could aim to be more accepting of disability than the Brits showed. You could call it the ‘Ashes of Acceptance’, since we love beating the Poms so much at contests.

It’s Okay to be Inspired by Our Paralympians

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are almost over. Most races and events have been run and won. Australia has done amazingly well given the relatively small contingent of 161 athletes representing us against some of the bigger teams we are competing with. As a nation, Australia have, at the time of writing, scored a total of 25 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze, a phenomenal haul, putting us 5th on the medal tally, happily just ahead of the United States of America. The only teams ahead of us are China way out in front, the host nation Great Britain even in gold medals with Russia but ahead on the overall count and Ukraine ahead of us by two.

At just 5:30am in the morning on the 30th of August Australian time, a total of 347,000 Australians woke up to tune into the Opening Ceremony of the London Paralympics, giving the station some of its strongest ratings ever. These relatively high viewing numbers have continued throughout the coverage of the events during the 7-11:00pm timeslot  on the ABC’s digital television station ABC2. The Paralympics have also continued to be shown on ABC1 for the finals sessions, occurring from 4am in the morning AEST.

But aside from the prolific medal-winning performances of our Paralympians in London, the biggest and most important element of the Paralympics is the effects that it is having back here at home on the Australian population.

The Paralympic Games, with such in-depth coverage give the opportunity for transformative effects on the Australian population, in particular the way in which people with a disability are viewed in Australia. All too often those with a disability are viewed by some ‘able-bods’ as having little worth and something to gawk at when we dare venture out into the community to live our lives to the best of our boundless abilities.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent times within the disability community about the word inspiration and particularly about so-called ‘inspiration porn’, that is, images of people with a disability with slogans meant to tug at the heartstrings. A lot of that has been viewed by those who have a disability with disdain.

Equally too and relevant directly to the 2012 Paralympics, words such as ‘inspirational’ and ‘amazing’ have been used to excess in describing the astonishing feats of our elite athletes with a disability. These comments again from some in the disability community have drawn equal condemnation to that which inspiration porn has attracted.

Many want our Paralympians to be seen as no different to our Olympians. They are elite sportspeople getting out of bed early and often to train to the highest level in their chosen sport. They don’t want to be seen as having done something any different to that of athletes without an impairment.

In the case of the Paralympics though, is it fair to view people commenting about the achievements of our Paralympic athletes with the kind of annoyance of that in relation to inspiration porn?

Recently, our Olympians had their shot at glory and in the early days of the Games, didn’t have as much success as was expected. But then we came good in the latter stages of the event to at least gain a respectable finish.

The superlatives flew in the final days of the competition with the strong performances we recorded, particularly in events we weren’t expected to excel in after under-performing in those we were. During the Olympic Games in London the words ‘inspirational’ and ‘extraordinary’ and just about any other superlative in existence were used to describe our Olympic athletes too.

So in this sense, we aren’t treating athletes with a disability any differently to athletes that do not. We might use a different degree of vigour in describing the efforts of our Paralympians, but for all intents and purposes they’re being referred to in exactly the same way as their Olympic counterparts.

We as Australians find our sportsmen and women inspiring. Sport is so entwined in our culture that we elevate those that show immense sporting prowess to a g0d-like status. Now that might be right or wrong, but that’s what happens and that is now happening to a similar extent with the broader commentary that our Paralympic athletes have been subjected to since the London Paralympics began.

That doesn’t mean that the occasional over-enthusiastic labelling of a Paralympian’s effort hasn’t occurred during the coverage of the Paralympic Games. It probably has. But is this automatically a bad thing?

Disability in Australia, as mentioned earlier, is not viewed as favourably and treated as equally as it is in particularly European countries and in the UK as anecdotal evidence has shown over the past week and a bit. So any change in the Australian mindset that results from this more in-depth broadcasting of the most elite of disabled sporting events should be viewed as a positive.

The fact  that our Paralympic athletes are now being referred to as inspirational and amazing signals at least a small shift in the perceptions of disability and it would be great if this continued to pervade the Australian political, social and cultural discourse.

It shouldn’t particularly matter how the minds of Australians are changed when viewing disability, providing that people aren’t condescending pricks when they talk to or about someone with a disability, what should matter is that the change itself is occurring.

So let’s embrace the inspirational, amazing, fantastic exploits of our Paralympic heroes, perhaps then, through maintained or increased exposure, we’ll begin to experience the change in thinking that we want to see.

How About We Let the Sport do the Talking?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are here, they’re finally here. The biggest ever Paralympic Games have returned to land of their spiritual birthplace, England. Over 4000 athletes have converged on the Paralympic Village, ready to compete across 21 sports, some everyday sports and some  adapted especially for athletes with a disability. This Paralympic Games has also seen the most number of tickets sold for the entire event, with 2.4 of 2.5 million tickets snapped up by sports mad people from the United Kingdom and around the world.

The television coverage domestically has also promised to be huge. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the perennial broadcast partner for the Paralympic Games again won the right to broadcast the event from start to finish. The ABC coverage of this year’s Paralympics has been much talked about. With the advent of digital television and the subsequent new channels allowing for greater coverage of this important sporting exhibition, more coverage, much more was promised.

Across two channels, the ABC have begun broadcasting a total of nine and a half hours daily from the Paralympic Games. This is a big shift from years previous when a highlights show and some radio commentary were the stock standard fare and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be congratulated for committing to such widespread coverage and the fact that the exposure of the Games is heading in the right direction, up.

Aside from the opening ceremony, which was brilliantly- read minimally narrated and impressively broadcast to the Australian people, the televising of the actual sporting prowess of our Paralympic athletes began right as the competition started.

That broadcast was headed in the studio by Stephanie Brantz, no stranger to sports commentary, as well as being co-hosted by comedian Lawrence Mooney, actor Adam Zwar and Sam Pang. Guests joined the hosts throughout four and a half hours of coverage on the ABC’s digital television channel.

A number of the finest voices of ABC Grandstand and ABC Radio  were stationed at the sporting venues across London, ready to bring the action to a curious Australian audience to a magnitude never seen before in this country.

If there was a failure of the coverage last night, it was that there was too much talk and not enough action. The stars of the Paralympics are supposed to be the athletes who’ve put in massive effort over the years and overcome more adversity than most people will ever encounter.

Instead, for much of the night, we were made familiar with the comedic exploits in particular of Lawrence Mooney and Adam Zwar, but also Sam Pang, who’ve been in the United Kingdom for some time already. The chat was interweaved with numerous introductions to the Australian team and some of its members individually, but that would ideally have taken place while there was little or no sport on, say between 6 and 7pm last night.

Oh and another thing. The only thing “live” about most of the coverage last night and yes the website says it was supposed to be live, is that the commentators were broadcasting live from London. Very little of the sport appeared live amid all the chin-wagging back in the studio. At one point the swimming heats went from one of the later heats in one event, directly to the second heat of presumably the next event. I’m sorry, but to me live coverage means footage of the actual competition is beamed to our televisions instantaneously,  not people sitting around in a studio talking about the sports we want to see as viewers.

As an indication of just how wrong they got it with the coverage last night, Twitter was abuzz with comments lamenting the lack of athletic action being displayed on televisions around Australia. One person even remarked to me that they were so disappointed they felt that switching off after a while was the only answer.

So here’s a radical thought: more sport and less talk. We know the c0-hosts are funny or at least try to be. But they’re not why we as viewers are tuning in. We want to see sporting genius, we want to share the joy of stellar efforts in the pool, on the road, the track and the other arenas. If we wanted a laugh we’d go to their gigs. To steal a line from Elvis and alter it just a bit, a little less conversation, a little more sporting action please.

There’s One Sporting Team to Come That Won’t Need a Performance Review Nor Extra Funding to Outstrip our Olympic Team

There’s just under three weeks to go until another massive sporting event begins in London. The 2012 Paralympic Games return to the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic movement. Australia is traditionally very strong at the Paralympic Games compared to the Olympics, with medal tallies often outstripping that of our Olympians. Some will put that down to the extra events which are necessary to accommodate the varying levels of disability. Others, like me will say that has nothing to do with it, each respective athlete still has to be able to perform on the day.

One of the strongest sports at the Paralympics for Australia, if not the strongest, is traditionally the swimming, just like it is with that other competition they call the Olympics.

Unlike the Olympic counterparts, the Australian Paralympic Swimming team are unlikely to need a soul-searching performance review complete with navel-gazing to determine what went wrong with their campaign.

There’s likely to be a gold rush to rival Victoria in the 1800’s as I’ve written before. Our collective medal haul in the pool alone, if melted down, would likely save Spain and Greece from the ignominy of default. Okay, maybe I’m embellishing just a little bit, but nonetheless our performance in the pool alone at the Paralympics is a real possibility of eclipsing the overall gold medal tally of our Olympic team which currently stands at 5 golds.

And all that before factoring in the strong possibilities of gold medals in other sports for Australia at the London Paralympics.

Our athletics team which has not under-performed by any means in the past is likely to again bring home medals, some of them gold, but also silver and bronze.

With people like relatively well-known Paralympian Kurt Fearnley competing again in London we’re sure to make a strong showing. The three time gold medallist will line up for his third Paralympic Games in an attempt to win gold in the 800m, 1500m and the marathon which Kurt has made his own.

Other track and field athletes to look out for at the Paralympics include Kelly Cartwright who broke the long jump world record for her classification in 2011 and then earlier this year broke both the 100m and 200m world records in her class. Then there’s Evan O’Hanlon who broke his own world record this year in the 100m, Jessica Gallagher who’s competed in the Winter Paralympics before and medalled in the sport and up and comers some of whom will be in with a real shot of a medal.

Then you have the wheelchair basketball with the Australian men’s team, the Rollers the defending champions from Beijing who are sure to again push the USA, Canada and the home team Great Britain for another gold medal. Not to be outdone, the women’s team who received bronze at the Paralympic Games in China will also be a good chance of another medal.

Australia also has a great chance in the wheelchair rugby, popularly known as ‘murderball’ for the rough nature of the game. The Australian team, with superstar Ryley Batt, will want to go one better on their effort at the Chinese games and win back the gold which the team won at Sydney in 2000.

Those sports alone, chiefly swimming and athletics, should easily see the gold medal tally go into double figures before sports like cycling, equestrian, powerlifting, sailing and more.

We’ll be up against it with the British hosts having plunged an astronomic amount into funding for both Paralympic and Olympic athletes, but any review won’t be raising depressing concerns about the performance of our Paralympic athletes.

It’s time to get excited Australia, with nine and a half hours of live television coverage daily to keep you happy and up to date with our teams’ exploits.

Wheelchair Basketball: A Great Paralympic Sport

Time for another lesson in sports that will be a part of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London just 86 days. This time it’s the fast-paced, exciting and skillful game of Wheelchair Basketball.

Wheelchair Basketball is one of the most-watched sports for the disabled and also has one of the highest participation rates worldwide (there are 82 national organisations for the sport worldwide)

HOW PLAYERS ARE CLASSIFIED

In order to be able to play in national and international competitions players are classified on a scale of 1.0-4.5 points with the lower numbers applying to the least functional athletes and the higher numbers to the least impaired athletes.

A team with a total classification point score of no more than 14 is allowed on court at any one time.

PLAYERS 

Each team can have up to 12 players with a total of 5 playing on-court at any one time.

THE PLAYING ARENA

One of the amazing things about the sport of Wheelchair Basketball is that it is played on exactly the same-sized court as Basketball for the “able-bods”. The court consists of all the same dimensions from the 3 point line to the height of the hoop and the backboard.

DURATION OF THE GAME

The game consists of four 10 minute quarters with a 15 minute half-time break and 2 minutes between every other quarter.

THE RULES

Play in Wheelchair Basketball is almost identical to that in Basketball with play beginning from the centre of the court with the ball being tossed up by a match official.

The team in possession has 24 seconds to push forward and attempt to score before possession is turned over.

A free-throw is worth 1 point, there is 2 points for a shot outside the field shot zone and 3 points for a shot outside the 3 point area.

The “travelling” rule is invoked when a player touches his or her wheels more than twice after receiving or dribbling the ball. The player must pass, bounce or shoot the ball before touching the wheels again.

An offensive player cannot be in the free-throw lane more than 3 seconds in possession of the ball.

The wheelchair is considered part of the player so it may be used to block a player.

A technical foul has been deemed to have occurred if a player attempts to lift out of their chair and otherwise similar foul rules apply as with Basketball.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS FROM THE 2008 PARALYMPICS

In the men’s draw the Australian team, known as the Rollers are the defending champions and in the women’s draw the USA are dual-defending Paralympic champions as well as world champions.

A LOOK AT THE GAME

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfB2BynBv2k&feature=related

100 Days to Go, But What’s the Paralympics All About?

Today marks just 100 days until the event the world will be watching, no not those games starting with ‘O’ and ending in ‘pic’, but the widely known about and often reported on Paralympic Games- well, this is true in an ideal world anyway. From the 29th of August until the 9th of September the London 2012 Paralympic Games will take place in the shadow of the Olympic Games which will have ceased just a short period of time prior to the commencement of the Paralympics. 

Little is known or reported about the Paralympic Games, so what’s it all about?

THE COMPETITORS:

The Paralympic Games are open to competitors with a physical disability, including those who are visually impaired or deaf. The Paralympic Games have also included athletes with an intellectual impairment in both the 1996 and 2000 Paralympics, but these participants were excluded from both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games after cheating on the part of the Spanish team particularly in the intellectually disabled basketball team. These athletes will return to the Paralympic Games in London for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

The London Paralympics will be the biggest to be held so far with approximately 4,200 athletes from 165 countries participating in the event and 16 of those nations will be competing for the first time in London.

THE SPORTS:

The 4,200 athletes participating will compete in a total of 21 different sports, with the majority of sports included in the Paralympics also featured as Olympic sports save for some modifications to cater for differing levels of impairment.

This year athletes will compete in:

  • Archery
  • Athletics
  • Boccia
  • Track and Road Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Football
  • Goalball
  • Judo
  • Powerlifting
  • Rowing
  • Sailing
  • Shooting
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Sitting Volleyball
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Wheelchair Fencing
  • Wheelchair Rugby
  • Wheelchair Tennis

The sports that are unique to the Paralympics are:

  • Boccia, which is similar to Bocce
  • Goalball which is similar to European Handball for visually impaired participants    
  • Powerlifting which is Weightlifting but performed different for participants with a higher level of physical impairment 
  • Sitting Volleyball which is similar to regular Indoor Volleyball, but performed seated on the court
  • Wheelchair Basketball which is similar to Basketball but undertaken in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Fencing which is like regular Fencing but for people in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Rugby which is also know as “Murderball” and involves similar play to the multiple forms of rugby but is performed indoors 
  • Wheelchair Tennis which is like Tennis but competitors play in a wheelchair

The Australian team is expected to do well, particularly, as has been the case historically, in swimming, athletics, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball where medal prospects are traditionally very strong.

One of the best sports to watch is the swimming which sees people with a range of impairments competing in classifications with people who have similar abilities and compete in the same manner as those in the Olympics. It is amazing to see double arm amputees finish the race head first on the touch pads.

Wheelchair Rugby or “Murderball” is one of the most spectacular sports to observe that involves people in a wheelchair. This sport sees players with specially designed wheelchairs with heavy duty protection play in much the same way as rugby players but by “tackling” each other by careering into their opponents wheelchair when they are in possession of the ball. The objective, like in the rugby codes is to get the ball over a line.

Wheelchair Basketball is another brilliant sport and very similar in sheer physicality to Wheelchair Rugby and as mentioned previously is practically identical to everyday Basketball but with the added difficulty of shooting for baskets from a sitting position in a wheelchair.

BROADCASTING OF THE PARALYMPIC GAMES

The Paralympics will again be broadcast on television and radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who have been a strong supporter of the Paralympics and broadcast over 120 hours of content from the previous Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. There will be some live coverage and some highlights packages as there has been previously.

Both the opening and closing ceremony will also be televised by the national broadcaster.

SO THERE’S THE BACKGROUND

So with just 100 days to go before the London 2012 Paralympic Games commence, you now have a bit of a background (presuming you didn’t prior to reading) of just what the Paralympics are about and why they are so amazing and hopefully a million more reasons to take an interest and watch or listen to some phenomenal sporting performances of the highest level.

What I Would Rather be Watching in London This Year

London has all the major international sporting athletes and attention descending on it in under 200 days, for two weeks of intense sporting competition equal to nothing in depth and breadth. The 2012 London Olympic Games begin in just 126 days, running for two weeks from the 27th of July-12th of August at and in the vicinity of historic English sites. Our prospects look better than they did just 12 months ago with some of our swimmers putting in very strong performances at the Australian Swimming Championships which came to an end last night in Adelaide. Other athletes in different sports, including Sally Pearson in athletics also add to medal promise of our Australian Olympic team.

But it is our Paralympic athletes in the pool that I will be watching when the Paralympics commence in London in only 159 days at the same venues as their Olympic counterparts. Our swimmers with a disability have shown over the past week of competition that they have what it takes to not only win more gold medals, but to also break more world records in the process.

Over the whole Australian Swimming Championships, Paralympic hopefuls broke an astonishing 25 world records in striving to make the team for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. How many did our Olympic athletes achieve? Zip, donuts. That’s not to say that our Olympic medal prospects are bad, they are not. The men’s team has strengthened much over the 4 years since the last Olympics from China, with stars like James Magnussen agonisingly close to achieving world-beating times and our men’s and women’s relay teams looking as strong as ever.

It will however be our Elite Athletes with a Disability that lead the way in London in the “real Olympics” with 25 world records surely converting into a gold medal in at least a bare majority of these events come the Paralympics later this year.

Our swimmers to compete in the Games are far from household names and they should have at least been mentioned in a breath of news coverage of the disastrous comeback campaigns of the likes of Ian Thorpe et al. Names to watch include Matthew Cowdrey, Prue Watt, Ellie Cole, Michael Anderson, Kayla Clarke, Jacqueline Freney and Blake Cochrane to name just some of our gold, let alone broader medal hopes.

These swimmers will now head back to the pool after perhaps a short break to refresh and refocus their minds on the big task of stepping up another level in London in just months. They will go in knowing that if they keep their focus and training is maintained and they stay injury-free that their chances are very strong of replicating the amazing efforts over the last week and a bit that have gone disgracefully unreported as is unfortunately the case on a too regular basis. I know I would rather watch our Paralympic swimmers, but I love the sport, so I will be watching both, hoping that our Olympic swimmers really do show up to compete and smash the world. The difference is, with our Paralympians, I don’t need to hope.

%d bloggers like this: