Thursday, 6 September 2012

Blip: The Olympic/Paralympic scandal




The Olympic build-up was a waste of time and only served to entertain the Neanderthals amongst us with the emergence of fire: A burny, sparkly, quite useful tool that humans have had access to (it has been theorised) for thousands of years. Despite this, many of us showed that when presented with fire directly, we will still clap, cheer and generally cause a fuss in the same manner of a scruffy yet faithful mutt having his walking lead dangled and rattled over his head.

The Olympic opening ceremony was a different matter. It was an occasion for me to truly eat my words as I was bored of the build-up and predicted it would be equally terrible, whereas, in truth, it was actually pretty inspiring. The detail of the opening countryside scene was immaculate; the fences sectioning out vivid grass from around the cottages and huts, the proud tree on top of the grassy hill and the mass of people playing their part as period farmers and workers really worked exceedingly well to create a truly idyllic picture. Not to mention the power and imposition of their representation of the industrial revolution with the huge towers rising from the ground and scarring the land. And of course the rather unexpected juxtaposition of the molten metal made from this revolution being used to forge the Olympic rings, as though the Olympics are just a product of modern, scarring industry rather than a look back to ancient Greece.

The games themselves, while often more interesting than the other mind-numbing rubbish on television these days, were somewhat of a disappointment after the ceremony. It was pretty much impossible to follow such an emotive spectacle with lines of people running down lanes, jumping over hurdles, waving benignly at the camera and throwing tantrums but on the whole I’ve been happy with the way the games turned out.

Which brings me to the focus of this post: The Paralympics. The build-up passed, the Olympic opening ceremony flowered and the games began and ended. Then, after an awkward gap where all the hype faded away and we got on with our lives, the Paralympics started up with a confused and often contradictory message: We are all the same really, we’re all equal, to celebrate how equal and the same we are, let’s watch the Olympic games made especially for all the different people.

We are supposed to accept that everyone in the world has differences and similarities but ultimately, we are all just people and should be treated equally, yet personally. Grouping people together in pre-decided sections is largely seen as wrong; the same principle applies to stereotyping a people based on the actions of an individual and vice versa. When trying to just be happy with equality and us all being the same, though, there is the distraction of blind people playing football. Not that blind people shouldn’t be allowed to play football and not to say I find it offensive or disgusting. It’s just that if we are expected to believe they are just the same as other Olympic footballers then why don’t they play together? We are told it’s because it wouldn’t be fair. “It’s amazing,” they say “they are just as talented as ‘normal’ footballers…” followed by “it’s great that they can play people of the same level in a tournament like this.”

The hypocrisy of it certainly bothers me. But what really gets to me is that the whole ethos of the Paralympics seems to be to segregate and celebrate the strange, weird folk that we know nothing about. It often elevates them to a degree of mythology by asking patronising and childish questions like:

·         “So as a blind person, the world must appear a strange a frightening place at times, what’s that like?”
·         “We all take train journeys for granted but you’re in a wheelchair, what are the struggles of public transport like to you?”
·         “How does it feel to have proven your worth against normal people by proving your prowess against other disabled people, furthering only the segregation you’re claiming to fight against?”

That last one, by the way, isn’t a direct quote or paraphrase; it is just something I’d like to ask plenty of the people being interviewed about the games.

As shown by even basic level chaos theory and the theory of large numbers, it is impossible to really show who the fastest human is at running a given distance. Tiny variations in atmospheric density, the power supply to timing devices and the size, shape and relative body masses of the athletes means than comparing two runners times is like comparing the flight of a gnat with the arc of a comet. There is no way to smooth out inconsistencies like this but the point is that it doesn’t matter. We compete because it’s fun. We like competing and we like watching competitions. We take great joy in the disappointment of losing and the mirth or surprise in winning. It’s all a giant masturbation session for the human condition. I don’t hold that against it as an insult. I consider it a perfectly fine expression of our desires and pleasures.

So then if you take out the exact measurements and start seeing athletic competitions for what they are: Mildly regulated rounds of fun. What justification is there left to separate disabled people and what right do you have to call an ‘irregular’ athlete ‘disabled’?

It’s just the same as black-only groups, women-only groups, French-only groups or any group that actively excludes people based on unrelated traits. A chess club having a rule to exclude people who can’t play chess or who play only at beginner level is understandable. It’s when the traits are unrelated that the problem occurs. If we are expected to take on board that Paralympians are just the same as Olympians then we do they have a different title, a different set of games, a different opening ceremony etc.

One of the themes of these games was inclusion and what they’ve instead succeeded in doing is excluding able-bodied people from the Paralympics but allowed disabled people in the Olympics. Seems like bullshit to the highest degree to me.

I propose we start again. A modern Olympic games that includes anyone and everyone and puts the focus on fun, personal achievement, friendly competition and building bonds between people regardless of every trait, even relevant ones. If your only goal in life is to run faster than everyone else on the planet rather than being happy improving yourself against your own times, your own limitations etc. then your nationality, race and ability and so on. doesn’t make you any less of an attention-seeking waste of space and brainpower, seeking only to erect barriers rather than bring them down. 

Blip (signature will go here, eventually)

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