March 16, 2005

Paralympic Scheduling Conflict

Yesterday marked one year to go before the opening of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, which will run from the 15th to the 26th of March. The unusual timing is due to the fact that this summer sports competition is being held in Melbourne, Australia.

There was an interesting story on CBC radio this morning pointing out that the dates overlap with the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, which are being held from the 10th to the 19th of March.

You'll notice, if you explore the web site above, that the Commonwealth Games are very progressive when it comes to athletes with a disability. The events are integrated into the schedule and the athletes are awarded the same medals as everybody else. No other major games are as inclusive and, as a result, the Commonwealth Games carry a great deal of prestige. For winter sport athletes, the Paralympic Winter Games are a rare opportunity to compete on the world stage. Although the Winter Paralympics are still relatively small, there are efforts underway to add more sports. Furthermore, the 2006 edition are being held during (not following) the Winter Olympics — I believe for the first time ever — which should have helped to catch the world's attention.

It's a shame that these two events are going on concurrently. Even more than most amateur athletes, athletes with a disability only get into the spotlight once every four years. Due to the scheduling conflict, the media coverage will be stretched even thinner than it would be otherwise.

It would be tempting to accuse the Commonwealth Games organizers of being insensitive to athletes with a disability, except for two things. One, they have a great track record in that regard; and two, the 2006 Commonwealth Games are also in conflict with the Winter Olympics. My guess is that they just don't think about winter sports much at all. Which makes sense, really, since only one Commonwealth nation makes any significant investment in winter sports.

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