Athletics and Para-Athletics: One Event or Two?

Apart from the odd highlight, I haven’t been watching much of the Commonwealth Games. Ironically given my interest in the Olympics, athletics isn’t really my thing. However, for me the interesting thing about these games is that the ‘ordinary’ events and the para-events are being held at the same time. Of course, at the olympics, the paralympics happens after the olympics, so they are two separate events, each with their own opening and closing ceremonies. But with these Commonwealth Games everything happens at once, so we see able-bodied athletes competing alongside disabled athletes, albeit in separate sports / categories.

That interests me as it rather changes the dynamic. I think there is a debate to be had over which is better: is it better in terms of the representation of disability for para-athletes to have their own event, or for everyone to compete at the same time? To be honest I’m not sure. One of the great things about London 2012 is that it really foregrounded the disability community, in the UK at least. It was aired on Channel Four whereas the Olympics aired on the Beeb, so it felt really distinct and separate. Channel Four really made an effort to give the Paralympics it’s own set of shows such as The Last Leg, so it really felt just as important as the Olympics, rather than a tagged on afterthought.

With the current games in Birmingham everything is happening simultaneously, so Para-athletes and sports are not getting that foregrounding. Thus on the one hand all the athletes are competing side by side, making them all feel as central to the action as each other; on the other hand, we loose the enormity of having a distinct Pararlympic games. It’s thus a bit of a case of swings and roundabouts, and I’m not sure which model I prefer.

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