The Impatient Patient: The Paralympics’ dim spotlight

U.S. and South Korean ice hockey teams battle it out. Photo courtesy of The Atlantic.

The buzz from the 2018 Winter Olympics may be dying down, but the hype for the Paralympics is just igniting — but barely. Since 1976, the year of the first winter Paralympic games, winter Paralympians have won 278 medals, more than the 197 medals earned by Olympians.

Despite this, there is a longstanding disparity between Paralympians and Olympians worldwide in terms of coverage received and money earned for winning medals, among others. This is not an issue exclusive to the U.S., but one that happens worldwide.

In 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) signed an agreement that will extend to 2032 with goals to not only bring about more awareness to the Paralympics, but also to ensure their longevity.

While this agreement is promising, it is hard to ignore the Olympic-sized gap between the two major sporting events. According to an article in the New York Times, the number of American reporters at the Paralympics dropped from 57 to 33 reporters. NBC alone sent 89 reporters to the 2018 Olympics, according to their website.

Of the 801 reporters worldwide covering the Paralympics, American reporters comprise of roughly four percent. Meanwhile, American athletes make up 43 percent of all Paralympic athletes competing, according to the official Team USA website. That constitutes, roughly, to seven athletes per reporter — extremely uneven coverage.

American Paralympians have been making great strides at the Olympics, currently owning the largest number of medals. It is a shame that we cannot be bothered to provide equal coverage to such athletes. We have athletes overcoming tremendous feats, yet their stories, much less their accomplishments, are given a very dim spotlight to be showcased in.

The same lack of coverage was apparent in the 2016 Paralympics as well. According to an article on The Conversation, 52 reporters (excluding NBC) were sent to the Paralympics compared to the 400 sent to the Olympics.

So what is causing the Paralympic coverage drought? According to this study published in 2003, journalists did not cover the event because they felt as though readers were simply not interested, and it was not worth the actual the cost of coverage. Another reason was the sentiment that the Paralympics did not rival the Olympics in that it was not a “real competition.”

Journalists may think that the Paralympics may not be an area of interest for the general public, and perhaps they are right. But, you cannot light a flame without a spark. How can the general public even get interested in the Paralympics when there is no coverage readily available?

While this study was published 15 years ago, the amount of coverage remains consistent — consistently low. The “para-” in “Paralympics” comes from the Greek preposition meaning “to be beside with.”

It was given to illustrate that both the Olympics and Paralympics were to exist together, with one not being placed on a higher pedestal than other. The origins of the Paralympic name has its heart in the right place, but until the same respect that is given to the Olympics is awarded to the Paralympics, the Paralympic name remains untrue.

An article on the South China Morning Post proposes an intriguing question — why are the accomplishments of an able-bodied person far more celebrated than the accomplishments of someone with a disability?

The fact of the matter is that the Paralympics were not created as a kind gesture for people with disabilities to compete in a pseudo-major sporting event, and as such, its athletes should not be seen as secondary.

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