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Paralympians dominate - but who's watching?

Ryley Batt helped lead Australia to gold in wheelchair rugby. (Australian Paralympic Committee CC BY-SA 3.0)
Roar Rookie
18th September, 2016
7

Australia had more gold medallists at this Paralympics than at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics combined.

Don’t ask me to name any though.

Apart from the odd face flashing by on a screen or an occasional headline somewhere, I’ve seen next to nothing in the way of news coverage. There was even an absence of stories in the prime-time sport reports on the television network broadcasting the Games.

So who’s to blame? Well, the media, obviously, but also event organisers.

The biggest problem is that we are all out of Olympic mode. Many of us watched more television and read more stories in the three weeks between August 5 and 21 than we had all year.

Quite rightly, Rio dominated the headlines throughout this time, and we soaked up the triumph, the tribulation and the trivial played out in front of our eyes.

But as the competition wound down, so too did our interest levels to the point that we’d moved on by the time the closing ceremony came around (who even watches that?)

And that was it. We reset the four-year clock and got on with our lives.

So you can’t blame the media, and the general public, for not enthusiastically jumping on-board a Paralympics that started weeks after the Olympic buzz had died down.

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There are several reasons it is custom to hold them separately to the main event, the root of these being the cost involved in making venues available for both games at once.

As Laura Hale describes in her article, London 2012 organisers repurposed venues to save money, such as using the Olympic handball venue for Paralympic goalball, and transforming the hockey field into a small-sided football field.

Purpose-built venues for these and other sports would’ve needed to be built if the two events were held at the same time.

This is only my relatively uneducated opinion, but surely there’s a way around this? It’s not like all the venues are in use constantly throughout the Olympics, so why not combine the two and extend the whole event by a week or however long it takes to fit all the events in?

It would probably result in some athletes competing at peculiar times, but they would be used to adapting to the demands of American television networks anyway. The blue-ribbon events could still be given precedence, but I’m sure there’s room in the schedule for some flexibility.

Athletics doesn’t start until halfway through the Olympics, and the swimming program only runs little more than a week. Why not switch it around for the Paralympics and have athletics running from day one and swimming finishing off the event?

Sure, the Paralympians wouldn’t be given as much in the way of television coverage if the two were on at the same time, but I know I would much rather see a bloke with one leg break a world record in the pool or a blind footballer dominate her opponents than an ageing Englishman in a suit and top-hat politely coax a horse around a sandpit.

There would be higher levels of general interest though, as following the Olympics is a big investment and people tend to get right into it. I’m sure we’d all be more aware of our Paralympic champions if they succeeded at the time we were in the mood to celebrate Aussie gold (particularly when our able-bodied athletes rarely seem to deliver on their potential).

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I’m sure the Paralympians aren’t too concerned about this, as it would barely be a drop in the ocean of adversity and struggle they’ve had to overcome. They’re just happy to be competing, but surely they would rather work around a less favourable event schedule if it means performing with the world’s eyes on them.

I’m not suggesting totally equal coverage of both, but it would just be nice if the Paralympics was a supplement to the Olympics rather than an afterthought.