Sunday, 2 September 2012

Olympics and Paralympics: why not merge them?

During the run up to the Olympics I was reminded of a growing tendency in sport to use technology to the maximum permissible effect - ever more springy running shoes for the athlete and more streamlined boats for rowers. This requires teamwork, as does the training of the contestant - athlete, gymnast, cyclist, driver, rower, skier or swimmer. The best technology requires teams of experts. Similarly with training for physical stamina, speed and skill by coaches, counsellors and medical advisers. Teams of experts are standard practice in all major sporting events and regulations are constantly being revised to allow for this.


The actual competitor is still the most important person in the team. He or she has to summon up almost superhuman effort and endurance. Nevertheless, the performance of the surrounding team is crucial in crossing the increasingly fine dividing line between winning and not winning.


This applies equally, or more so, to those taking part in the Paralympics and in other sporting competitions for those with physical disabilities.


 In either case the winner is becoming more an emblem of a successful joint effort than a person to be admired – hopefully not worshipped - in himself or herself. Neil Armstrong was celebrated as the culmination of the American space effort in a ten year race against the Soviets to get a man on the moon, rather than praised as an individual. This seems to be the way sport is going. Even team sport. Football is not just about the 11 players on the field – it is about the managers, coaches, financial backers and, most of all, the supporters.


I recently heard an expert in prosthetics predicting that expected developments in aids to the human body could allow the Paralympics and Olympics to be merged. An expanded Olympics would incorporate both categories of contestant in one system of games, with no distinction or allowance made for the intrinsic physical endowments of the competitor or the participant in a team sport. Similarly, events for males and females could be replaced by events for human beings.


Initially, this may be possible with some sports more than others; but it could well be the way sport is going and in my view it would add to its interest while at the same time allowing competitors to win in a more meaningful and gracious way. It would also help to remind us that a person is not defined by his or her physical attributes.

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