equal time

A few days ago, I posted a link to an essay by Canadian athlete Rick Hansen, arguing for greater visibility for the Paralympics when the Games are hosted by Canada in 2010.

Amateur alerted me to an opposing opinion, also from the Toronto Star.

Amateur, I thank you for pointing this out, because I'd like to demolish it.

"You can't force people to care."

Ms Ormsby, no one is trying to force anyone to care about anything. However, people can't care about what they haven't been exposed to. If Canadians were exposed to Paralympic sport, they might care very greatly. They might find themselves caring about the country's Paralympians as much - or as little - as they do its Olympians. Or they might not. Right now we have no way of knowing. Only equal media exposure would answer that question.

You can't guilt them into cheering for athletes in sports for which they have no passion.

Guilt has nothing to do with it. Nothing. The last thing any athlete with a disability wants from anyone is guilt, or pity, or sympathy. The Paralympics is about sport. Incredible, mind-blowing sport. Photo finishes, nail-biting suspense, seemingly impossible speed, strength, coordination, endurance. Heated competition. Grudge matches. Touching moments of sportsmanship, pride and glory. Heartbreaking scenes of wipe-outs and instant defeats. The Paralympic Games are about what humans can accomplish. Just like the Olympics.

Again, Ms Ormsby, no one can have passion for something they don't know anything about. No one is born with passion for basketball, or baseball, or cricket, or soccer - or even hockey. It's true! Canadians are not born with their love of hockey. They learn it. They acquire it from their environment and their culture.

Of course most people don't have a passion for disabled sports - they've had no exposure to them! Why don't we expose everyone to these incredible athletes and let them decide for themselves, rather than deciding in advance, that if you build it, they won't come?

There's no conspiracy. There's no deliberate attempt to ignore the country's disabled in Italy while more compelling news, such as the Maple Leafs' playoff battle, dominates sports coverage.

No one said there is a conspiracy. There is, however, a vicious cycle between a dearth of media attention and a dearth of corporate sponsorship, the lack of each one making it difficult to attract the other.

What do the Maple Leafs' playoff battle (as if anyone seriously believes the Leafs are going to the playoffs) have to do with it? Canadians managed to follow both the NHL and the Olympics. Why wouldn't they be able to work the Paralympics into their busy TV-viewing schedule?

That same compelling attraction cannot be said of the Paralympics.

This could only be said by someone who has not seen Paralympic sport. I've seen few things more compelling in my life. But again, you have to see it to decide.

These Games do not have the same worldwide involvement as the Olympics in numbers of countries and participants and therefore its heft as an event of true international scope and gravitas is diminished. There are 486 Paralympians from 39 countries in Turin, while more than 2,500 athletes from 84 nations attended the Olympics.

It's true that the Winter Paralympics are smaller in scope than the summer Paralympics. However, the Paralympics - without regard to season - is one of the largest international competitions, period. In Athens in 2004, 3800 athletes from 136 countries competed.

What's more, since countries that excel in winter sports generally create a viewership for the Winter Olympics, there may be a built-in audience for Canada's Winter Paralympians. However, we can't know that unless they're on TV. Sports can't be enjoyed in theory; they have to be seen.

In addition, events are divided into separate categories, a layered approach making it difficult to figure who's the true champion -- is it the blind skier or the standing class skier? Or the sitting class skier?

The "true champion"? Is that what you're worried about? Put your mind at ease, Ms Ormsby.

Viewers have already proven they have no trouble distinguishing between categories of athletes. No one says, Ooo, two gold medals were awarded, one to Cindy Klassen and one to Enrico Fabris, which is the true champion? We all manage to follow the concept that there are different events. Gee, is the gold medalist in the team pursuit the true champion, or is it the 5,000 metre?

If viewers can distinguish between short track, long track, team pursuit, luge, skeleton, two-person bobsled, four-person bobsled, and whatever else, they'll be able to distinguish between monoskiers, amputee skiers and blind skiers.

No one is suggesting that every classification of disability in every sport must be televised. But if North American viewers watch blind skiing, or amputee skiing, or sled hockey, they'll know who the champions are - because they'll know who won.

Disabled sport in general also suffers from a dearth of competition.

The best example of this is the remarkable success of Canadian wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc. At 36 years old - an age when many athletes' best days are behind them - Petitclerc currently holds every world record from the 100 metres to the 1,500, strongly suggesting her competitive fields are shallow.

Ms Ormsby, I don't know what you do know about, but whatever it is, write about that.

Wheelchair athletes have a greater longevity than standing athletes because of the nature of their sports: they don't wear out their knees. The elbows, shoulders and wrists of wheelchair racers don't take the constant pounding that the knees of able-bodied runners do.

Chantal Petitclerc is a great athlete, but she does not hold all the world records for women's wheelchair racers! Where does Ormsby come up with that one? Does she mean for Canadian female athletes? I'm not sure. But it's not true.

[Late addition: I just figured out what Ormsby must mean. Petitclerc won an astounding five gold medals in the 2004 Paralympics. She does not hold the world record in every distance she won.]

There is a discrepancy between male and female athletes in the sport of wheelchair racing; the men have more competition. The female side is well developed, but not as much as the men. So using Petitclerc as an example twists the evidence to suit the outcome. I thought Ormsby was writing about Torino and Vancouver? If you throw in the Summer Paralympics, she doesn't have a leg to stand on.

You cannot create the illusion that the Paralympics are on par with the Olympics and suggest that not believing this constitutes prejudice.

Nor can you create the illusion that people don't care about something when your only evidence is that you say so.

Not paying rapt attention to sledge hockey is not a moral failing of Canadians.

A moral failing? No.

An exciting, compelling sport that they're missing because of a lack of media coverage? Yes. People who love hockey will probably love sled hockey. I'd be willing to bet on it.

Sports viewership changes over time, and public taste can be shaped by exposure. Once upon a time, the three major sports in the US were baseball, boxing and horse racing. (If you don't believe me, look at the sports pages of any newspaper from the first part of the 20th Century.) Once upon a time, millions of people in the US did not live and die with college basketball tournaments. Once upon a time, golf was not a huge spectator sport - or auto racing.

Many people who don't even watch sports watch the Olympics. Why should we assume the same people wouldn't tune in to the Paralympics?

It just means in this country of many choices, where Canadians choose to send Olympians and Paralympians around the globe to compete, we don't need to be told whom to cheer.

I agree. No one should be told for whom to cheer. We should be exposed to all the international athletes, the elite, the best of the best, and decide for ourselves if they're worth our time.

* * * *

For another response to Ormsby's column, go here. Go, read. It's good.


Oana said...

Nicely said! What an ignorant woman.

M@ said...

On what this writer does know, note that her only other Star article is a celebrity-style piece about Elizabeth Manley, our 1988 silver medalist fancy skater, and her husband who is 14 years younger.

So obviously she's qualified to comment on amateur sport in general and the paralympics in particular.

laura k said...

Good observation. Amateur pointed that out, too. You'd think the Star would have better use for the ink.

Amateur said...

Thanks for the plug, and the compliments, L-girl. You are quite a bit more informed on this issue than I am, but I still feel qualified enough to take on the Star's columnist! LOL.

Andrea said...

ohh I actually want to smack her. not nice I know but oohhhh. My cousin is a boarderline quadrapaligic horse rider. No olympian but I can tell ya that watcher her ride a horse makes me cheer pretty damn loudly. Any sport where people actually try, regarless of ability or physical ability makes me cheer loud.
I am almost thinking that the writter is actually a person who does not like sports and probably never competed in any herself.
It took an almost deaf and 90%blind girl to show me that I still couldnt ride a horse very well yet!!

And ya - much better use for ink.

lucie said...

thank you! (and thanks for the link, do you speak/read french?)

laura k said...

Amateur, thanks for that, but I think your post is more to the point in terms of sport. It's the Mutual Admiration Society here. :)

It took an almost deaf and 90%blind girl to show me that I still couldnt ride a horse very well yet!!

Hee hee, that's cool. I'm a big ball of blubber compared to the athletes I write about, who are supposed to be "handicapped". Disability sports has made me re-think the whole concept of disability. More on that some other time...

(and thanks for the link, do you speak/read french?)

Only the tiniest bit. Thank you for the link!

And Oana, thank you, and welcome to wmtc!

Doug said...

you know I've learned to not even respond to individuals like this writer...I have a sister that has Frederick's ataxia and to watch her fight everyday against all odds, without any hope for a cure, to no she won't see her children grow up, to see her grandchildren but to fight against all hope gives me enormous strength and the ability to see past my "so-called" problems and live life to the fullest...that is what my sister has given me and continues to give me. So people like this writer I just feel sorry for them what their missing, what their not seeing in these para-olympians and that is the underlining message of determination, passion, drive to compete to live to me that's worth everything

laura k said...

you know I've learned to not even respond to individuals like this writer...

I like to respond. The Paralympics is part of my own mission in life. :)

that is what my sister has given me and continues to give me.

That's really beautiful.

what their not seeing in these para-olympians and that is the underlining message of determination, passion, drive to compete to live to me that's worth everything

They're also missing great sports. I find disability sports even more exciting than able-bodied sports, because of the creativity involved, the extra determination.

Thanks for your comments Doug.

Doug said...

I never meant to denigrate the actual quaility of the competition I love watching basketball, swimming, the track events and truly admire the degree of skill involved...but to me I find it unfathomable to think of this disability whatever I have and then to take that mind-set and focus it in a positive manner I feel they have a far better appreciation for life then we do...I look at my sister sometimes without saying anything and just wonder what the thoughts must be to look at her kids, her husband, her family and have this degenerative illness that is gradually taking her life and yet through all that to not wallow in her sorrow, or look for sympathy. Every bit of energy she has is expended daily, literally and yet she goes forward...she really has captured the essence of life, and so have these para-olympians in my humble estimation....

laura k said...

I never meant to denigrate the actual quaility of the competition

I didn't think you did, it's cool. The people with disabilities who I've met and written about, not just athletes but successful people in many areas (lawyers, engineers, actors, writers), inspire me so much. I have learned so much from my exposure to this world.

It's something we should all be sensitive to, because it's the minority that anyone can join.