March 17, 2006

Let's Pretend It's All About Sport

RICK HANSEN: "My dream back [at the 1984 summer Olympics] was that one day our athletes with a disability would have equal recognition. Today, as Canada's best competes at the ninth Paralympic Winter Games that dream remains unfulfilled. My challenge to Canadians is to see our team and indeed all the participants recognized as athletes first."

MARY ORMSBY: "You can't force people to care. You can't guilt them into cheering for athletes in sports for which they have no passion. Otherwise, we'd spend all our leisure time watching cricket and precision skating and ringette."

AMATEUR: Mr. Hansen, did you get that? We Canadians have no passion for skiing, curling, or hockey. Please stop trying to force us to care. (Also, apparently somebody is trying to make me feel guilty about not watching cricket. If it's you, please stop that also.)

MR. HANSEN: "In many ways, our acceptance of our athletes with a disability have broader socio-cultural implications, reflecting our acceptance of people with a disability in the offices, factories and boardrooms of our nation. Certainly more must be done before true equality is achieved. However, great strides have been made."

MS. ORMSBY: "There's no conspiracy. There's no deliberate attempt to ignore the country's disabled in Italy while more compelling news, such as the Maple Leafs' playoff battle, dominates sports coverage."

AMATEUR: I know, I'm totally pumped about the fact that the Leafs are going to miss the playoffs. But, uh, Mr. Hansen didn't actually say anything about a conspiracy. I like your straw man, though.

MS. ORMSBY: "These Games do not have the same worldwide involvement as the Olympics in numbers of countries and participants and therefore its heft as an event of true international scope and gravitas is diminished. There are 486 Paralympians from 39 countries in Turin, while more than 2,500 athletes from 84 nations attended the Olympics."

AMATEUR: Oh yeah, I can see your point. I knew there must be a logical reason that the Paralympics don't get more attention: not enough international scope and gravitas. And it also explains why the world junior hockey championship tournament is such a washout with Canadian audiences: there were only ten countries, and fewer than 250 athletes! No wonder those poor kids never get any credit for their success.

MS. ORMSBY: "In addition, events are divided into separate categories, a layered approach making it difficult to figure who's the true champion — is it the blind skier or the standing class skier? Or the sitting class skier?"

AMATEUR: I hate that, when you've got a layered approach that makes it difficult to figure out who's the true champion. Like the BCS system in US college football. That's a total audience killer, isn't it?

MS. ORMSBY: "Disabled sport in general also suffers from a dearth of competition. The best example of this is the remarkable success of Canadian wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc. At 36 years old — an age when many athletes' best days are behind them — Petitclerc currently holds every world record from the 100 metres to the 1,500, strongly suggesting her competitive fields are shallow."

AMATEUR: FactualPS and analytical — I'm starting to like you more. Unfortunately, these facts are irrelevant to the argument! Ice hockey also suffers a dearth of competition compared to, say, soccer. A couple of years ago Canada simultaneously held the titles of men's Olympic champion, women's Olympic champion, men's world champion, women's world champion, men's junior world champion — and probably two or three more that I'm not even aware of. Think that could happen in soccer? Think again. And yet, Canadians as a group would rather watch hockey! Funny, isn't it?

MR. HANSEN: "When I participated in Los Angeles I wanted to prove to myself and to the world that being in a wheelchair would not limit my ability to achieve my goals. Today, our Paralympic athletes will once again prove that anything is possible when you believe in a dream. I would urge all Canadians that as our Paralympic athletes capture medals in Turin, their achievements are celebrated with the same kind of enthusiasm afforded to Cindy Klassen and others."

MS. ORMSBY: "Rick Hansen believes that Canadians are wrong not to embrace every Paralympic medallist with the same fervour accorded speed skater Cindy Klassen because that prevents athletes with disabilities achieving 'equal recognition.' But that philosophical stand confuses crusading for the cause with logic. You cannot create the illusion that the Paralympics are on par with the Olympics and suggest that not believing this constitutes prejudice."

AMATEUR: I don't think Mr. Hansen is the one who is confused. We're talking about sports fandom here; how does logic enter into the discussion? It's easy to prove that the Paralympics are not "on par with" the Olympics; I can similarly prove that the Winter Olympics are not "on par with" the Summer Olympics, and that the NCAA basketball tournament is not "on par with" soccer's world cup. But so what? I enjoy all of those events, and they are all capable of inspiring joy, anguish, and admiration. The connection to a sporting event is based, fundamentally, on emotion, and not on logic.

Mr. Hansen is "urging" us, as Canadian sports fans, to give our Paralympians the same recognition that we give to our Olympians. Ms. Ormsby makes it sound like just another appeal for an obscure sport; like if I wrote here that everybody should pay more attention to flatwater kayaking. Then we could have a little debate about the merits of the sport, compared to others that are more popular; we could throw some numbers around, and make comparisons, and talk about what we like and don't like in a sport.

Ms. Ormsby wants to pretend that our national lack of interest in the Paralympics is just like that, I guess. That we all really, truly, don't even think about the fact that the athletes are disabled. We just don't care as much about the Paralympics because the competition is not as broad, or as deep; or the events are too complicated to follow; or skiing's just not our cup of tea and we'd rather watch cricket. And maybe that's true. So then, what's our excuse for the way disabled people get treated in other walks of life?

I'll give the last word to the two columnists:

MS. ORMSBY: "in this country of many choices, where Canadians choose to send Olympians and Paralympians around the globe to compete, we don't need to be told whom to cheer."

MR. HANSEN: "Then, let's begin building a truly Canadian model of inclusiveness for 2010 which ensures that the Games and the benefits of hosting them are applied equally to all our athletes."

PS L-girl did the homework that I did not do, and has discovered that this claim of five world records is actually not factual. My mistake.

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