Backlash of the Paralympians: Athletes claim double standards in sport honours
They were hailed as heroes in the summer. Now, they feel they have lost out in the New Year Honours List compared with able-bodied athletes. And they are very, very angry
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday, covering Sarah Cassidy’s maternity leave. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 30 December 2012
Leading Paralympians hit out last night at what they felt was double standards in the New Year Honours list in which multi-gold-medal-winning Paralympians missed out on the highest gongs.
Cyclist Sarah Storey was the only Paralympic athlete to be given the top award of a dame or knighthood, despite many Paralympians racking up far more gold medals than cyclist Bradley Wiggins or the sailor Ben Ainslie, the two Olympians knighted in this year's list.
Among those criticising the 2013 list is the dressage rider Lee Pearson OBE, who told The Independent on Sunday he was "disappointed" not to get a knighthood after winning his 10th gold medal at the Paralympics this summer, adding: "It's the discrepancy that pisses me off."
Six-times gold-medal-winning wheelchair racer David Weir, who was appointed CBE, also said that Paralympians have to win more medals to get the highest accolades.
Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee and a former GB Paralympian, said the number of Paralympians being recognised with the top awards was not equal with Olympians and added he hoped there would be greater parity after Rio in 2016.
Pearson said: "Obviously, 10 gold, one silver and one bronze just isn't enough. I'm disappointed because I do feel I've given a lot to Paralympic sport and equestrianism. I think 10 gold medals is quite an achievement."
Pearson's gold medal tally is bigger than Wiggins's and Ainslie's put together, and he believes his case illustrates that Paralympic and Olympic medals are still not valued equally. "There still seems to be a discrepancy between a Paralympic medal and an Olympic medal. It's tougher to get on in normal life if you've got a disability, and then to do sport on top of that is quite an achievement, I think, but maybe the powers that be don't."
The disparity in the number of honours does not reflect the performance of Britain's Paralympians at the 2012 Games. Paralympics GB won 120 medals, including 34 golds, 43 bronze and 43 silver, putting them third in the medal table. Team GB's Olympians also came third in the medal table, with 29 gold medals, 17 silver and 19 bronze.
David Weir, who won four gold medals at London 2012, was the only Paralympian to be appointed CBE, though four Olympians (Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger and Victoria Pendleton) were honoured. The picture was similar for OBEs: four Olympians and two Paralympians were appointed OBE. The numbers of MBEs – the lowest honour – were more equal, though 28 Olympic athletes as against 24 Paralympic athletes were appointed.
Weir said: "It's a weird one, how they choose it. Sometimes it seems that Paralympians have to win lots and lots of medals to get a damehood or a knighthood." Speaking to The Daily Telegraph yesterday, he added: "Kelly Holmes was made a dame when she won two gold medals, but it seems we have to get into double figures to get it. Sarah Storey should have been awarded this years ago. I feel that sometimes we are left out, perhaps because we are not in the public eye. It is a bit strange, but I am just honoured to get anything from the Queen for doing a sport I love."
Last night, the Paralympic sprint gold medallist Jonnie Peacock, who was awarded an MBE, posted on Twitter: "Repping the para athletics guys!! Has to be said though, how much more does @davidweir2012 have to do to get a knighting?!"
Sir Philip Craven said: "You can do the arithmetic and make your own conclusions. I think it's important to listen to what two great Paralympians think. The people saying maybe [Paralympians] should have a bit more, there might be a case for that."
A spokeswoman for the British Paralympic Association said: "The Paralympic Games showed that the public value a Paralympic medal in the same way as an Olympic medal, but this has not always been the case. It is understandable that some of the athletes whose historical achievements were not recognised in the same way as those achievements in 2012 are expressing frustration. This is the most balanced honours list that we have seen in the history of Paralympic sport in terms of recognising achievement, and we recognise that it is in incredibly difficult task to apportion honours after such a phenomenal year. However, there is still an element of 'catch up' to happen."
The list was drawn up by the Sports Honours Committee, which is chaired by Lord Coe and includes the former Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Four main criteria are used: sporting excellence, longevity of career, what the athlete has given back to their sport, community or charity, and what honours they have already received.
Grey-Thompson said: "It's hard. I don't think you can compare the Olympics and Paralympics. The honours system is the fairest it's ever been in terms of the number of Paralympians winning awards. Some people may feel it's not fair. But every gold-medal-winning Paralympian has been honoured, which wasn't the case in previous years."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "After a glorious summer of British sport we wanted to recognise the outstanding achievements of our Olympians and Paralympians."
New Year honours
Lee Pearson CBE
Still no knighthood after winning 10 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze between 2000 and 2012. Made a CBE in 2009 after he had 9 golds.
Dame Sarah Storey
Made a dame only this year after winning 11 gold medals, 8 silver and 3 bronze between 1992 and 2012.
Mike Kenny MBE
The swimmer holds the Paralympic medal record, winning 16 gold and 2 silver between 1976 and 1988. He was only made an MBE in 1989.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
She won 11 gold medals, 4 bronze and a silver before she was made a dame in 2005.
Sir Chris Hoy
Awarded a knighthood in 2008 after winning 4 golds in two Olympics.
Sir Ben Ainslie
Awarded a knighthood this year after getting 4 golds and a silver at consecutive Olympics.
Dame Kelly Holmes
Made a dame in 2005 after winning 2 gold medals and 1 bronze.
Sir Bradley Wiggins
Knighted this year after winning the Tour de France and 4 gold medals, 2 bronze and a silver over four Games.
The 2013 list
Dame or Knight 1 Paralympian and 2 Olympians
OBE 4 Olympians and 2 Paralympians
CBE 4 Olympians and 1 Paralympian
MBE 28 Olympians and 24 Paralympians
Olympians vs Paralympians
Paralympic medals 120 medals (34 gold; 43 bronze; 43 silver)
Olympic medals 65 medals (29 gold; 17 silver; 19 bronze)
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