Dawn of a New Age in Sporting Diversity

by Ezekiel Robson.

Last Monday morning as I gently settled into my calm pool of reflection and quiet mental
preparation, sitting in the back of a taxi on my way to a meeting, I was yet again faced with that most awkward of moments as, over the low mutterings of talkback radio, came Dreaded Question #3 “Did ya see The Game on Saturday, Sir?”

My initial thought? ‘Urgh! Sport!’ Why is it that childhood memories of feeling embarrassed, helpless or worthless at something seems to come back to us quicker, in vivid colour, more so than our experiences of joy, happiness or achievement through concentrated effort?

How could I explain to my well-intentioned driver who understandably enjoys social chit-chat, and probably thinks you can’t go wrong with a rugby icebreaker on a Kiwi bloke, that my interests fit in a different box. What would he think of me if he knew I didn’t know one end of a rugby ball from the other. (What? They’re identical ?! Ohh…)

I’m not saying I dislike sport, but must admit my personal experience of it shapes how much attention I pay to other people’s sport. I just don’t follow which teams play which games, or how well a particular coach is doing. I pick up some things as the odd sports story sneaks into the ‘main’ bit of the 6pm news. This comes in handy now and then, such as to tackle Dreaded Question #6 “Who do ya reckon’s gonna win The Game this Saturday, Sir?”

In fact, there was a time when I showed some ability at throwing stuff in an athletic sense, but alas, we all have roads less traveled, so now only the occasional stapler goes flying across the room. I have also participated in blind sports clubs before, until a lack of genuine professionalism and structured skill development practices drove me away.

Fortunately I was able to move the conversation onto something I was paying attention to: the Olympic Games. NZ’s 185-strong team competed in over 20 different sports and won 13 medals (6 Gold, 2 Silver, 5 Bronze). Talkback postmortems are in full swing, assisted by math geeks eager to dust off their 6th Form Stats skills to re-define medal table rankings relative to population size, team size, or GDP.

The 2012 Olympic effort continues a positive upward trend on past medal totals, but is still some way off the dizzy heights our Paralympic teams have reached. The Paralympic Games kicks off this Thursday morning (NZ time) with 26 athletes in 7 sporting events. The aim is to return with 18 medals, following in past patterns of consistently bringing in 2x, 3x or even 4x the medals of their Olympic counterparts.

NZ Paralympians got $1.5 million of this year’s $60 million in taxpayer funding for High
Performance Sport. The same factors determining success apply : skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus. They share common experiences of modern sports science and performance coaching methods, not to mention a degree of personal sacrifice. I think I know which one delivers value for money.

It’s interesting to observe the stark contrast in TV coverage. Round-the-clock free-to-air Olympic coverage was brilliant plus it felt less commercially-driven than past efforts from TVNZ. By comparison Prime TV has screened a 2-hour documentary profiling our Paralympic athletes but is not scheduling any dedicated coverage outside regular news shows. If you’re hungry for more, Sky TV is the main alternative.

The NZ Herald has published some fairly positive articles, and just to prove we’re not that different, the Paralympics has it’s own sex and drugs ‘scandals’.

Social change activists will have been pointing excitedly, welcoming the blurring of boundaries that Oscar Pistorius represents : the first double amputee to qualify for both Olympic and Paralympic events. Then there’s the South Korean Archer, who must have eventually realised it was better not to upset the majority able-ist perspective about which Games disabled people were supposed to compete in. No surprise then that Pistorius has his own detractors.

Whether it’s a one-to-one conversation or an international event, let’s dream for more diversity in perspectives of sport and its coverage, as well as more diversity in sport itself.

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One thought on “Dawn of a New Age in Sporting Diversity

  1. p.s. I’m a math geek too : Medal Comparisons

    2008 Beijing, China
    Paralympics G 5, S 3, B 4 = Total 12
    Olympics G 3, S 2, B 4 = Total 9

    2004 Athens, Greece
    Paralympics G 6, S 1, B 3 = Total 10
    Olympics G 3, S 2 = Total 5

    2000 Sydney, Australia
    Paralympics G 6, S 8, B 4 = Total 18
    Olympics G 1, B 3 = Total 4

    1996 Atlanta, USA
    Paralympics G 9, S 6, B 4 = Total 19
    Olympics G 3, S 2, B 1 = Total 6

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