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Posts from the ‘Paralympic Games’ Category

Issues: Para Sport II

Narratives of Paralympic Sport: Perspectives from Rio and Beyond

Joshua R. Pate, Ph.D., James Madison University

Editors’ note: This post is the second in a series focused on disability sport and the Paralympic Games. The first post in the series, written by Dr. Laura Misener, was published on January 9, 2017.

I always enjoy and hate asking my undergraduate students this question: “How many of you have seen a Paralympic sport before?” The response—or lack of—is disturbing.

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The 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Students in the United States don’t watch the Paralympic Games because, as simple as it may sound, it’s not something on ESPN’s SportsCenter. It’s not covered by mainstream media. It’s not shoved in our faces as Americans. It’s just not present among U.S. media coverage of sport. When it is, it’s in the Lifestyles section of the newspaper or the Features segment on a nightly news program.

I hate it when I ask that question because I know the response. In a class of 38 students, less than five raise their hand.

I love it when I ask that question because I know we’re about to cover a unit in class where learning is nearly guaranteed.

Such was the case this September when the Paralympics were held in Rio. We were guaranteed a record-breaking 66 hours of coverage here in the States to be shown on NBC Sports Network, which is reportedly available in 71% of U.S. households with a television, according to Sports TV Ratings (2016).

Ratings website Sports Media Watch reported that primetime coverage of the Paralympic Games averaged 143,000 viewers, an increase of 175% from the London Paralympic coverage (Paulsen, 2016). The single broadcast that aired on NBC pulled 651,000 viewers for a 0.4 final rating. Granted, the Rio Games received 60.5 more hours of American televised coverage compared to the mere 5.5 hours of coverage from the London Games.

Yes, we have to start somewhere. Yes, 66 hours is better than 5.5 hours of delayed, commentator-dubbed footage. Yes, we anticipate even more coverage in the future if advertisers jump on board (and see what’s in it for them, such as a demographic of brand-loyal consumers that would rival NASCAR fans).

But if we’re talking narratives following the Rio Paralympics, there were none in the U.S.

I had the occasional student tell me they watched an event. I had the occasional colleague or neighbor tell me they saw something the other day on the Special Olympics. And aside from the few of us in the United States studying Paralympic and disability sport, I question the percentage of sport management courses across the U.S. that spent time on the topic at all this September … or October … or November, whether it would’ve been inclusion-related, facilities, general management, governance, etc.

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The Press Room at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.

dePauw (1997) referred to the lack of media coverage as “Invisibility of Disability,” where athletes are invisible or excluded from sport altogether. dePauw’s spectrum of disability sport coverage expands to “Visibility of Disability” where athletes are visible but inferior to able-bodied athletes, and finally “(In)Visibility of DisAbility,” where athletes are seen as athletes first and disability is minimized.

In U.S. media coverage, disability sport is invisible. We can draw comparisons to other global sports not covered as prominently in American sports media, such as Premier League soccer. In the technologically-driven age of being able to know the Liverpool-Southampton result instantly, we have no excuse for not knowing how easily the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team breezed through to the gold medal in Rio.

However, we are at a critical time in academia where, as educators, we have the opportunity or perhaps the duty to not just inform students of Paralympic and disability sport but to engage them into a critical discussion of why a global event with more than 4,000 athletes is nowhere on our U.S. sport coverage agenda.

References

dePauw, K. (1997). The (in)visibility of disability: Cultural contexts and ‘sporting bodies.’ Quest, 49, 416-430.

Paulsen. (2016). More ratings: Paralympics, World Cup of Hockey, WNBA on ESPN. Retrieved from http://www.sportsmediawatch.com/2016/09/paralympics-ratings-nbcsn-world-cup-hockey-espn-viewership-wnba/ 

Sports TV Ratings. (2016). How many more homes is ESPN in than FS1 and NBC Sports Network? Retrieved from https://sportstvratings.com/how-many-more-homes-is-espn-in-than-fs1-and-nbc-sports-network-june-2016-edition/5087/

Issues: Para Sport I

Beyond Rio…Accessibility, Elitism and Sport Development

Laura Misener, Ph.D. – Western University

Editors’ note: This post is the first in a series focused on disability sport and the Paralympic Games. The second post, written by Dr. Josh R. Pate, will be published on February 20, 2017.

As a scholar in the realm of disability sport, I must confront my seemingly incongruent position of privilege as a white, able-bodied, former elite athlete with the critical discourses of disability which I interrogate. I was struck by that reality as I spent time in Rio, Brazil in the lead up to and during the 2016 Paralympic Games. I found my time in Rio both a pleasure as a sport fan, and problematic as a conscientious citizen and researcher.

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Dr. Laura Misener at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

The question remains, has this event changed anything about Rio or Brazil for the lives of persons with disabilities? This issue remains central to much of the ongoing research about so-called legacies or impacts of the hosting the Paralympic Games. I situate my own scholarly thinking about disability, on what Goodley (2013) and others argue is systemic discrimination based on ableist (i.e. able bodied as ideal) assumptions, institutions, and structures that disadvantage persons with a disability. Spaces of poverty and deprivation abound in Rio and throughout the urban landscapes of Brazil, which presented a stark contrast to the pristine, elite sporting venues of the Games. In terms of accessibility and understanding of disability, I witnessed how far Brazil must go to address some of the basic standards set forth by the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The crumbled pavements, lack of curb cuts, no audible cues in traffic, and inaccessible transportation network are just some of the ongoing physical issues that were to be addressed through the hosting of the Paralympic Games. But the expectation that such an event can meet such a colossal challenge is insurmountable, particularly in the face of such economic and political turmoil. In many ways, my experience of being in and around venues only served to further highlight the inequalities experienced by many Brazilians with a disability.

On the other hand, I felt optimistic about the event being able to highlight inequities and potentially focus on shifting negative attitudes and stereotypes about disability. But as a spectator and fan of sport, they got it all wrong. As I listened to IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s speech during the Opening Ceremony, he framed disability around the problematic inspirational narrative (i.e. supercrip) and missing the mark on the social inequities that disability often produces. Further, the Paralympic flag was brought into the stadium by a group of severely disabled children who will never access the Paralympic movement, literally puppeteered by adults was further demonstrative of the distanced understanding of disability in the everyday life. Yet, the crowd of international elite Sport Managers, Policy Makers, and Dignitaries around me loved it! It is perhaps a call for me as a scholar to work harder from within and without to demonstrate the value and importance of our work.

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Laura Misener

My time at the events was brief, but it highlighted further the poor understanding and inequalities of disability sport in this country. At Athletics, I watched a T36 (visual impairment) athlete from Portugal miss his jump time because the crowd was too loud for him to hear the coach to know when to jump. Then, after protesting, he was allowed an additional attempt and foot-faulted – yet the crowd cheered loudly applauding his failed attempt. Certainly, we can chalk this up to different cultural contexts where Brazilian crowds are supportive of all sporting efforts, but athletes know and feel the difference between educated sport fans and piteous encouragement.

I still believe that these Games and similar types of events can be an opportunity for social change. I met volunteers and local citizens from Rio who saw the Paralympic Games as the highlight event. They believed that this was the opportunity to change the way people think, understand, and act towards disability. I am not convinced that sport managers have the solutions about how to appropriately manage sport, disability sport, or mega events but I do see that we have much space as scholars for interesting conversations and the real machinations of political will to see these as social change opportunities.