Nikki’s Natter – Where are the Wheel Blacks…and all our other awesome athletes?

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Nikki Frittmann is a notetaker and reader/writer for students with disabilities at AUT University.  She has Spina Bifida and lives in Auckland with her husband and two cats.  Every second month she shares her musings with DPSN.

As I write this, the NZ Para Swimming Team have just returned from the Glasgow IPC Swimming World Championships. The team of eight elite athletes scored a total of 16 medals (eight gold, six silver and two bronze), making New Zealand the country with the highest per capita medal total at the games – and that’s without mentioning the personal bests and championship records (two by Mary Fisher, and one by Sophie Pascoe).

It’s hard to think of an able-bodied Games in recent history (or any history, for that matter), where you could say the same. And in fact, that happens a lot. At the last Paralympic Games, the point was made that the New Zealand team had won more medals per head of population than our able-bodied Olympians had.  My point here (and I do have one) is, where were/are the TV cameras?

If not for Twitter and Facebook, I for one would not have known this event was taking place. Not one iota of TV coverage did I see. Not one newspaper article in mainstream media (if there was one, I apologise in advance as I must have missed it). Why? Why are our superb disabled sportspeople continually overlooked, while sports with more followers, bigger audiences, and more funding, get prime time exposure? In this day and age of equality (in most things) for people with disabilities (or at least there is supposed to be), how come the All Blacks get more attention than the Wheel Blacks?

The answer is, of course, money. TV channels and radio stations all want advertisers’ money, and that means only broadcasting programmes that people will watch in their thousands. Presumably, the belief is that disabled people swimming, running (or wheeling), javelin-ing, skiing, and shot-putting their way to sporting glory isn’t the key to higher ratings.

But I’m not so sure. The TV program “Attitude”, with its stories of people living with disability, seems to have found a solid audience for some years now. Admittedly, it’s not on in prime time (yet), but its Sunday morning slot isn’t exactly inaccessible. Statistics now show that one in four people in New Zealand (that’s over a million Kiwis in total) have some sort of disability. Surely they, their friends and loved ones make up a fairly decent potential audience for disability sport?

Not so long ago, I had the pleasure of watching the Wheel Blacks play in my local stadium. Of course I’m a bit biased, but I find it hard to imagine where else you’d find a more thrilling spectacle in sports for free. In a few weeks, I’m going to watch the Wheelstarz wheelchair basketball team in action locally. I’m expecting to have a ripping good time. Admittedly, the Wheel Blacks game got a wee bit of mainstream media coverage (a few minutes on the TV news) but this was the exception, not the rule. I’m hoping the Wheelstarz will get some coverage, but going on past performance, it’s an unlikely chance.

I also recently watched the Wimbledon Tennis Championships from England. I stayed up all night to do it and yes, I was goggle-eyed with exhaustion for the whole two weeks. I’m only just recovering. Wimbledon has for 10 years now featured wheelchair tennis doubles and has just announced that from 2016, it will be featuring wheelchair singles as well. By all accounts from the organisers, the live audience at Wimbledon enjoy watching this event, and they must do, otherwise I doubt they would put it on in the first place. But hey, what do you know? Again, no television coverage – at least, not here. As New Zealand coverage takes its Wimbledon pictures and sound from the BBC in England, I’m guessing they’re not seeing wheelchair tennis from this Tournament on English TV either. It’s a shame.

So come on, New Zealand media, let us fans watch disabled sports on our TV and listen to it on our radios. You might be surprised at how popular this move would be.

One thought on “Nikki’s Natter – Where are the Wheel Blacks…and all our other awesome athletes?

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