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.