The Truths & Myths of the Paralympic Games Pt. 2: A Perception That Needs to Change
As much of society is now aware, on Sunday the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided to do what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could not do and that is to banned the entire Russian team from the Paralympic Games in all sports. This decision was huge because it showed that the Paralympics is more serious and has less tolerance to doping and cheaters than the Olympic Games. The other thing that this decision did was force society to think about and express their perception of the Paralympic Games and Para Athletes. It spurred Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel to put out an article that couldn't have been further from the truth but unfortunately is probably a pretty good representation of much of society regarding Para Sports.
The article titled The Olympic Spirit is Dead; Just Ask Russia's Paralympic Team, explains how the discovery of wide spread cheating in Olympic and Paralympic sport hurts the credibility of the events but it also states that the perception was that Paralympic sport were totally clean and only serve the purpose to inspire the rest of us in society. The conclusion of the article was that the spirit of the Olympics is now dead because "little Billy," who serves only to put a glimmer of hope in the rest of us, has now been found to be a cheater. This perception is widespread in society and may never change but I think society would be amazed if they looked further into Para Sports to see not just the level of resiliancy but also to see the level of athletic ability and talent. READ FULL ARTICLE
The perception of much of society is that the Paralympic Games is a second tier talent event where anyone that has a disability and a little competitive spirit gets to go. The perception is that Para Athletes are mere anti-depressants for the rest of society. Wetzel includes the below statements to further demonstrate these perceptions.
"When an entire country gets thrown out for fixing what once was believed to be the most uplifting form of human athletic accomplishment in an effort to achieve national glory through wheelchair curling, there really isn’t any hope for the Olympic Movement."
"Who the heck would try to fix the Paralympics, essentially handicapping rival handicapped athletes? Even for Vladimir Putin that seems weak."
"If you can’t simply kick back and watch humans who have beaten immense odds, say losing their legs, to sprint down a track, without suspecting at least one, if not all, are trying to cheat their fellow heroes … then what is the point?"
The perception of Dan Wetzel and much of society is wrong on multiple levels. First, if society has not realized over the last few years that there is a tendency for human nature to be corrupt and use every method possible to get an edge over their competition than they are living in a hole in the ground. Para Athletes are humans and think the same way as everyone else in society. With that knowledge alone, there should be reason to believe that if there are dopers in Olympic sport than there are dopers in Para Sport. It is almost as if the majority of society believes that as athletes with disabilities our mission is just to inspire others and our performance in competition comes second. I know I have said this before, but as Para Athletes we don't go out there to inspire. This is completely a misperception created by society. The end result of our participation may be inspiration but if you ask a Para Athlete what their main goal is and they say it is to inspire than they are most likely not an Elite Para Athlete. We participate to compete and win! Thus, there should be no surprise that there are cheaters in Para Sport as well.
Secondly, the Paralympic Games just like the Olympic Games test the physiological potential of the human body. In many classes of Paralympic sports, there are athletes that are trimming the line of the maximum potential of what the human body can do with a given impairment. . This means that with respect to their impairment, many Para Athletes are equivalently talented as Olympic athletes. I would be willing to argue that superstar wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden who is nearly unstoppable in her sport is equivalently gifted as Katie Ledecky is in swimming. If Ledecky, had the same exact impairment as McFadden and went into wheelchair racing would she be able to beat McFadden? Maybe or maybe not. One of the problems that hurts Para Sports is that society has nothing to compare Para Sport performances to. Society can easily understand the greatness of Olympic athletes because they can compare performances to their own abilities. We can not compare the times of an above the knee amputee runner to the times of a "non-impaired" Olympic runner and determine athletic talent because the maximum physiological potential of a human with an above the knee amputation will never be the same as an Olympic athlete when comparing times. This does not mean that the amputee athlete is less talented as an athlete but rather the maximal potential due to the lost limb accounts for the difference in performance. There needs to be a change in society's perception that those with disabilities will never have the athletic abilities of those without a disability.
Thirdly, if we all do what Wetzel recommends and give up any interest in the Olympic and Paralympics because "the spirit of the games is dead" than we should give up interest in most of everything in life. Should the spirit of the NFL be dead because there are athletes using performing enhancing drugs (PEDS) and cheating in every other way? Should we give up interest in political policy because there is widespread corruption among politicians? Should we give up interest in working because there is corruption within corporate America? The answer is that it is up to you to decide but I will say that we all need to understand that there is always bad where there is good. We must educate ourselves about each area of life before we develop perceptions that may actually be misperceptions. The idea that "the spirit of the games" is dead because it was discovered that there are dopers in Paralympic sport is ridiculous. This conclusion was developed based upon a misperception of what the Paralympic Games and Para Sport. are all about.
The purpose of the Paralympic Games is to determine the greatest athletes among those with disabilities. Despite how the media may depict Para Sport, it should be viewed and spectated with the same perception as Olympic sport. I am not saying that we should not be motivated and inspired when we observe amazing performances among Para Athletes but what I am saying is that this motivation and inspiration should be looked at in the same way as that which we enjoy when observing an epic performance by Michael Phelps in the pool. Para Athletes do not compete to inspire, we compete to win! This is the perception that Wetzel and much of society has wrong and needs to change.