Friday, October 06, 2006

Disability Sport is Not Elite Sport

I was torn to shreds the other day for daring to suggest that disability sports don't belong on TV. They're boring. The athletes are just not that good.

I mean no disrespect - I'm not that fast either. See Carl Lewis? I'm just not built like that. In my mid-thirties, I took up soccer. I'm pretty good for nearly-forty, short and slow. Against my peers, I hold my own. But I'm not asking you to watch it on TV.

In recent years disability sport has sky-rocketed in profile and coverage. We hear terms like 'elite athletes', and I appreciate that the guy with one leg trains hard, but he doesn't move like Carl Lewis either.

The Paralympics is about competitions for people who don't run so fast. Now, I'm all in favour of competing against people of your own level. It's more fun that way. That is participatory sport, not elite sport.

I think what really upset my colleagues was when I suggested having a chess competition for thick people. You could have a category for prefrontal lobotomy elite competitors, and another for those who could just never tie shoelaces. How about a beauty contest for the ugly? Get those people who don't look so good to compete against each other - and get government funding. No one could quite explain why the Paralymics are so wonderful and my suggestions cruel.

Disability sport is participatory sport, not elite sport. Give the athletes respect for having a crack at it, and let them hire the facilities. It is not world class and it is not worth watching.

One possible exception is wheelchair rugby.


Peter said...

Just a tad too harsh...

The reason we watch any sport, elite or otherwise, like my 14 year old son's Rugby League game, is for the thrill of an unscripted, unwritten ending. I've never watched any movie that's made my heart race or my blood pound like watching the Bledisloe Cup or last weeks NRL finals clash between the Broncos and the Melbourne Storm.

The Broncos, clear underdogs, came through to beat a seemingly invincible Storm. After 28 games in the season, the Storm had only been defeated 3 times and had won their last 14 games straight. One month earlier, the Broncos had come off the back of a 5 game losing streak to scrap into the finals. So it was the stuff legends are made of when they bet the Storm in the only game that really counts, the final.

But that's why we watch sport. Be it paralympian, world cup soccer or my son's under 14 team. The unscripted element sets the heart racing.

What is elite if it's not the best in that field? Carl Lewis wouldn't take on Grant Hackett in the 3000M free-style, but that doesn't make Lewis any less of an athlete. Put Lewis in a wheel chair and have him do the 100M sprint against a paralympian and you'll see an elite athlete in their field kick his ass.

Is the real issue that we want to pretend these people don't exist?

At the end of WWI people were repulsed by the number of amputees that came home from the war as though they were somehow less of a man than they were before. Are these paralympians any less of an athlete than Lewis? I'd dare say you'd find some that are more, those that, if on equal footing, would be greater than Lewis. Either way, it is elite when they push themselves to their physical limits and beyond (legally blind, vision impared cyclists would be an example of the beyond, they ride the velodrome by the blur they see and by the feel of the track rushing by beneath them).

So, elite is a relative term

I openly admit I don't watch parasports because I too don't like to be reminded of the hideous loss these people have suffered. It's easier to turn to another channel and look at 'beautiful people.' And yet, consider the courage they have not to lie down and accept debilitating defeat. That's courage beyond what I possess. If only I were so brave in support of them.


Onyx Stone said...

You make a good point about people with disabilities now being free to win awards and honour rather than being hidden away. This has surely saved untold misery and humiliation to countless families and individuals. And that is surely a more important issue than sport.

But what is elite sport? There's a spectrum from international, national, regional, to local and social... also age-group, disability. All of it is honourable when the best principles of sport are upheld. But elite sport is the high end of that spectrum.

If there's a race for over-sixty-five left-handers from East Cairo, then I'm sure it's honourable sport and riviting for the participants and locals. But the interest value is diminished for a wider audience. If the fastest man ever to set foot on the planet is racing, then I want to see it. That's what I think the Olympics should be - fastest, highest, longest...

Anyway, you're right. I was harsh.

Peter said...

Hey, don’t knock geriatric southpaws…

Seriously, you hit the bullseye more often than not in your blog. Keep up the good work.