Paralympic inclusion – what is it?

Professor Jan Burns Head of Eligibility for the International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disabilities (www.INAS.org) reflects back on key moments from Rio

I often have an inclusion debate around the Olympics and Paralympic. Some of my very politically inclusionist friends tell me that to be fully inclusive the events should be run together. So let me put some flesh and bones around this debate and say why I don’t agree with this view.

Indeed, I’ve not heard anyone actually involved in the Paralympics put forward this view, it seems to be one more held by theorists than those of us who need to work in this world.

Firstly, we have some major practiParaolympics3.jpgcal concerns. Take the events. For every Olympic event there are multiple Paralympic events, all requiring space in the programme, officials, medal ceremonies, etc.

For example, the 100m has 10 classes for different levels of ability, with qualifying heats. If we ran them alongside the Olympics we would need either duplicate venues, or the Games would go on for many weeks.

Transport is a major issue in running the Games, getting athletes, officials and the audience to venues, whilst the city workers need to carry on their daily life. Running integrated events would double this challenge. Then we have the athletes’ village, made to accommodate 10,000 athletes and then modified to accommodate 4,000 Paralympic athletes, which often means changing two bedrooms into one to accommodate wheelchairs. Hence, the athlete village would probably need to double in size. I could go on, with all the impossible practical and consequential financial challenges this would incur. In a different direction one of the great impacts of the Paralympics is the media coverage and public impact.  Integrating the two would undoubtedly result in less coverage for the Paralympics as it tries to compete with the Olympic events.

London 2012 resulted in sell-out crowds for both Games, I can’t quite imagine this happening if the games where integrated and there was a choice of dozens of competing events every day, spread over many weeks.Paraolympics1.jpg

Finally, let’s talk about what inclusion really means. For me inclusion means being given the same opportunities and respect as others. The way the Paralympics are currently staged does this, and when staged well accomplishes it. Integration of the Games would result in tokenism and only a fraction of the exposure that the Paralympics currently attracts. The summer and winter Paralympics are the pinnacle of the Paralympic calendar and many events occur throughout the years leading up to the Games.

Where practical these are run along-side the Olympic qualifying events. Indeed, this year we saw Wimbledon host a wheelchair tennis open competition along-side the able bodied programme. Finally, where you see most inclusion is in the elite training programmes, which are commonly run together. After 56 years of practice for me the Paralympics has just about got the balance between inclusivity and specialisation right, and I’m quite happy to see the ‘test event’ aka the Olympics smooth the way and introduce the Paralympics.

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