Archive for August 2012

The Paralympics- not equal but very different   Leave a comment

The Paralympics is not the sporting equivalent of the Olympics.  An Olympic champion can claim to be the greatest measured athlete on the planet (of a particular gender in all but equestrian events).  A Paralympian Gold Medallist usually represents the best in a narrow band of a particular disability.  That doesn’t make the Paralympics any less of a celebration of human achievement than the Olympics; in most ways it is a far better representation of all that is good in humanity.

Paralympians are some of the most incredible people you can find.  Often they put in the hours, make all the sacrifices and raise the finances that any able-bodied athlete does.  In the main it is more of a struggle for that disabled athelete to get the support, money and recognition even before you consider the practical restrictions that come with various disabilities.

However I don’t consider Tanni Grey-Thompson to be a better athlete than Kelly Holmes or Mike Kenny better than Becky Adlington.  In the Paralympics there are so more categories in which to compete but most of us are lucky enough not to qualify for those categories.  This doesn’t mean that those disabled individuals are not  superb athletes but I think Baroness Grey-Thompson’s work as an advocate for disabled people is the equal of her 11 gold medals.

The current games include events for mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy.  In many of those disabilities there are several categories to ensure that athletes of similar classification compete together.  For example this means swimming has 14 classes

There are more than double the number of medals available at the Paralympics than at the Olympics.  A much smaller pool of athletes qualify for those events than for most Olympic events; this where it differs from the Olympics.  Part of any legacy of these Games is increasing participation not just among western disabled people but more importantly in developing countries.  Where sophisticated equipment is needed just to survive never mind participate in sports this will be a long haul.

In theory I could compete in all of the male events at the Olympics.  I know I couldn’t really get down to the weight required in the combat sports but generally anyone can aspire to compete.  I do not qualify for any of the events in the Paralympics*.  With the exception of short-sightedness a world away from recognised visual impairment I was born without disability.  My minor accidents over the years have not meant the loss of limbs, eyesight, brain function or mobility.  Whether you agree with this blog or find it patronising I expect you agree I don’t have an intellectual disability.

(In fact the only Paralympic team I might join would be the Spanish intellectual disability Basketball team!)

The Olympics is now about being the best.  Any pretence about just competing has gone.  You cannot longer see scores of outclassed athletes coming home last in races or being battered in boxing bouts.  There will always be some who compete for “political” reasons such as Niger’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka in the rowing or Saudi Arabia judoka Wojdan Shaherkani. However in the main the Olympics is about the best professional sportsmen on the planet.

The Paralympics is more about where the Olympics started- participation for the good of the human spirit.  The origins of disability sport with Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville was about competition as part of therapy.  The opponent to beat in that case was in the first instance your own difficulties.  Most of the Paralympian athletes have already won a personal battle just by being in a position to compete.

The Games however are more than a triumph over adversity for those taking part.  They are an incredible advertisement of the capabilities of disabled people.  While we are by no means perfect in this country we do have a building heritage of recognising abilities rather than disabilities.  Now this four-year event is influencing more and more nations to look at those with disabilities in a different light.

In some ways the Games have gone beyond the point of publicising those with disabilities and towards normalising their status.  I am sure we will have drugs cheats at the Paralympics as well as at the Olympics.  In fact the Games for the disabled bring more opportunities for corruption with the various classifications and practices such as “boosting”.  It is clear that disabled athletes work as hard or harder than their able-bodied counterparts, it is also clear at the elite end a few are just as likely to cheat.

There are usually human interest stories behind many athletes.  With disabled athletes everyone has an account of overcoming adversity.  Whether that is Baroness Grey-Thompson with a condition that meant she wouldn’t have survived infanthood a few years ago now sitting in Parliament or  Martine Wright blown up by terrorists the day after the Games were awarded and now a competitor.

The Olympics is the better sporting competition; the Olympians are the superior athletes.  That doesn’t mean the able-bodied competitors work any harder or make more sacrifices.  Disabled athletes start from a different position and their achievements are far greater on a personal level.

I will watch any sport.  If that sport involves me taking sides then all the better.  If you stick a Union Jack or St George’s Cross  on one side then I am hooked.  For me as a spectator the Paralympic events are like the less well known events at the Olympics.  I only watch Judo, Taekwondo, Volleyball or Swimming and the like if there is a British interest.  I guess it will be the same for these Games.  I put the T45 100m in the same category as the 78kg Olympic Judo- great if there is a Brit in with a chance of winning.

I do recognise that the Paralympics is not like the Olympics.  It is the World’s second greatest multi-sport event but it transcends sport.  It will be patronising for me to highlight that the whole event is a triumph of spirit over adversary but that is how I see it rather than the zenith of sporting excellence.  It has to be more than just a competition, it is about ability over disability.

In reality it is closer to Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s dream than the modern Olympics!  “The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”

*I am reminded that the goalkeeper in Blind Football is sighted.  As someone who had a couple of seasons in goal in the Sunday League I have to confess I still don’t qualify!


Atheist+ gets a D minus from me   Leave a comment

I am an atheist just because I don’t believe in any supernatural beings.  I also believe that organised religion is often inherently evil.  On top of that I abhor bigotry and discrimination in any form.   I think any move towards a campaign termed Atheist+ is stupid.

My political views are more libertarian than liberal and in British political terms I am probably right-wing but see myself as having significant social-democrat leanings in that I think the state safety-net is fundamental.  In US terms I might be considered virtually a communist by the GOP or the Tea Party.

I might term myself atheist, humanist, an advocate for the disabled, a feminist, an anti-racist and a campaigner for LGBT rights.  I also am involved in community participation and empowering those who are missed by conventional means.  I am not part of some “magic” grouping that incorporates all of these issues.

It seems that to be an atheist I just have to realise there are no gods.  To earn the label of Atheist+ I have to take a fifty question survey and write an essay explaining why a white, straight, middle-aged, comfortably-off, male with no disabilities dare to be considered worthy.

Those that are public and campaign about atheism, secularism and humanism tend to the liberal wing.  I expect there are few racist atheists, few sexist humanists and there is no secular agenda for oppressing LGBT people.  There might however be issues with inclusion, not always because there are problems with discrimination but because existing members don’t understand how intimidating any grouping can be.  I am not sure that this feeling of exclusion is necessarily linked to gender, sexuality, race or disability.

In terms of political parties it is those to the left that seem the natural home of the ungodly.  However I am not sure the division is as strong in the UK as over the pond. There are openly atheist GOP activists but they are rare, probably because the natural electorate rules out such views.  In the UK it is rare for a candidate to make their religious views a factor in an election.  Even Prime Minister Tony Blair waited until he stood down until he “came out” as a Catholic wing-nut.

I think in Britain you can comfortably be a Conservative atheist.  This might mean that you are not a social progressive in terms of social policy but you still don’t recognise any mythical being.  In fact it could be claimed that the libertarians can claim to support self-determination away from any bigotry and external influences while rejecting social support from the state.   This is true on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was involved in the organisation of a youth football tournament recently.  The guest of honour pointed out the lack of minority ethnic players among the hundreds competing.  I pointed out the ethnic make-up of our demographic catchment to explain this.  In fact there were a couple of black children  but I realised that number was less than might be expected.  I will not tear my hair out declare I am part of a racist organisation; I will check with partners and practitioners to see whether there is a problem or any factors that adversely influence ethnic participation.

I feel the move towards Atheist+ is  closely linked to the supposed misogyny at atheist events.  I am not sure that this is a real factor but again concede the need for inclusion.  It seems that rather than investigating whether this is an issue within the “atheist community” some have concluded it is and over-reacted.

Whether there is a real community that can be migrated from labelling itself as atheist to “super-dooper, socially progressive, all-inclusive, politically aware with a very big plus-sign ATHEIST” is doubtful.  I am aware that Margaret Thatcher was about as right-wing as British politics gets but I agree with her assertion, “If your only opportunity is to be equal then it is not opportunity.”

But in terms of Atheist+ can I cite Groucho Marx?

“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Olympians- the true sporting heroes   Leave a comment

The Olympics is certainly the primary global celebration of sport.  I will write about my overall views later.  However much has been made of the differences between those competing in this marking of the 30th Olympiad and other “professional” sport.

Those competing for medals are often professionals.  By professional I am not talking about the football or basketball stars who might be paid millions of pounds just to turn out on the pitch or court but athletes  who get financial support to back their training.

I am involved with English lower league football and know that British Olympic boxers get far less than the average fourth tier footballer for leaving home and being put up in dormitories to train.  I expect for many fringe athletes the same is true.

British Judoka Gemma Gibbons, now a silver medallist, put out a public appeal for help to buy a second-hand car so she could continue to train.  Peter Wilson lost all his funding for a while in the run up to London 2012 before he won the gold in the double-trap shotgun.

Now these are not sports that automatically attract public support but the BBC coverage has shown that all of these sports can be compulsive viewing. There is already a groundswell of interest in the established sports such as Track and Field as well as the less fashionable in the UK like Handball.

‎What has struck me is that there are “ordinary” athletes out there who are battling for the resources to continue competing who do not have the egos associated with some of our well known stars.  I have seldom seen a football star apologise after a poor performance; I have got used to Olympic stars breaking down in tears of regret after super-human efforts.

Defending Olympic champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter finished second in the lightweight men’s double sculls.  Hunter had to be helped from his boat by rowing legend Steve Redgrave and his doctor wife; the skuller was so physically drained that he was sick into the water and unable to walk.

In his interview Mark Hunter said: “We gave everything, we tried everything, we wanted to win so badly, sorry to everyone we’ve let down.”

Yes some of the stars of the Olympics make silly money from the advertising and sponsorship but in the main they deserve it.  Others pick up the minor gong from the Queen and go back to battling for the money and recognition for their sports.  Many are just an indication of all the unsung heroes in British sport nurturing talent and going out of their way to make a difference to people.

Back to Mark Hunter and his, “sorry to have let everyone down!”  That is a double medal winning Olympian apologising not only to his coaches, colleagues and family but to the general public for disappointing them.  By the general public I mean those of us watching the Games from the comfort of the sofa.  Those of us who pay twenty-plus pounds a time to watch footballers who are not fit to oil Hunter’s rowlocks!