Olympics for the Disabled?

 At the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, Dr. Robert Steadward, former President of the International Paralympic Committee was interviewed in the Vancouver Sun regarding his view of the future of the Paralympic Games. In the article, Steadweard suggested that it might be time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to consider a further step along their evolution whereby the two Games would be held at the same time and using the same venues. Sir Philip Craven, current President of the IPC was then quoted in subsequent articles noting disagreement focusing particularly on the concept that if it’s not broke why fix it.

What resulted was a great deal of further newspaper articles and hallway conversations in Whistler and Vancouver weighing the merits of either holding separate Games as has been the tradition since 1960 or if merging the two into one sporting festival. What seemed interesting to us, however, was that the discussion seemed to get bogged down on logistics rather than looking at the question of inclusion from a more symbolic nature.

Where the debate seems to get bogged down is the confusion regarding what disability specific sports are. They are not just identify Games such as the Gay Games or Macabia Games for the Jewish faith but are instead legitimate categories of sport such as gender, weight, etc. The debate in 2010 did not speak to the continuum/ spectrum of individualized opportunities that can and should be offered. The debate seemed to define inclusion in rather narrow terms. Rather we would advocate inclusion based on a more holistic approach of shared values even with different event categories.

The first Youth Olympics Games in Singapore recently concluded, and there was mention by IOC president Jaques Rogge that a Youth Paralympic Games  is "definitely something we are looking at." Rogge also said, "It is up to the IPC to decide what they want to do," and ""We have not discussed this with them [the IPC]." Chris Holmes, Director of Paralympic Integration for London 2012 said, "The Youth Olympics has been a fantastic event and if we have the chance to develop that and introduce a Youth Paralympics then we should take that opportunity - sport should be open to everybody." In the context of the Youth Games, it is important to also reflect and analyze the framework utilized within the Olympic Movement – will it be events with different values and symbols or is it one movement involving events with shared humanistic values and symbols?

Andy Miah would suggest that the separation of the Games is morally suspect at its very core and the continued ghettoization of persons with a disability is abhorant. Women, different ethnic groups, sexual orientation, among other “minority” groups are not considered anything other than Olympians – why then are persons with a disability?

 Co-authored by:

David Legg, Mt. Royal College, dlegg@mtroyal.ca 
 Eli Wolff, Brown University, eli_wolff@brown.edu