Archie Bland: We have to stop patronising Paralympics athletes

Freeview from the editors at i

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Even allowing for the fact that we're the home nation, there doesn't seem much doubt that this is the most keenly awaited Paralympics ever. From Channel 4's spine-tingling "Meet the superhumans" trailer to the extraordinary 2.4 million tickets sold so far, the sense of anticipation is palpable. I, for one, can't wait.

And yet. For a lot of people, it still doesn't quite seem the same. Not for nothing has International Paralympic Committee chief Sir Philip Craven called for the word disabled to be dropped, arguing that it indicates that it puts the sport in a ghetto.

There's a critical tonal difference to the way the Paralympics is discussed: a presumption that the Paralympics are as much about the journey as the hoped-for destination on the podium. As a fan of Southampton Football Club, just promoted to the Premier League, I'm used to this patronising tone, and I find it intensely irritating – but at least I have to acknowledge that it's in part justified by the fact that we're not very good. In the Paralympics no such qualification applies.

Well-meaning though it may be, there's something dehumanising about the difference: although I think that Channel 4 ad is a superb piece of work, it's hard to deny that it taps into the same thing – this idea that every one of the competitors has done brilliantly just by showing up. But if you're Oscar Pistorius, wouldn't it rankle a little to be put in the same vast category as the Paralympic Eric the Eel?

The truth is, a lot of people do view Pistorius in this way. Witness a conversation on the BBC coverage of his participation in the Olympic 400m that went unremarked, but which struck me as appalling: Denise Lewis's view was that it was fine for him to be involved from a "humanitarian" point of view, but questions would have to be asked if it looked like he might win. In other words: Pistorius can have a crack if it makes him feel better about not having any legs, but I'm not prepared to take him seriously.

In the end, Pistorius, titan though he undoubtedly is, wasn't good enough for the final at the Olympics. And if we're really serious about treating the two sets of Games equitably, this might be the hardest step: baldy acknowledging facts like that, gently ridiculing the people who are completely hopeless, getting frustrated by whichever Brit proves the Paralympics equivalent of Phillips Idowu.

Sport, after all, is always a tale of disaster as well as triumph. So, yes, I'm looking forward to cheering on our medallists. But I also cheerfully anticipate groaning for the ones who mess it up.