Since its inception in 1960, the Paralympics have been held every four years and since 1988 it has been held immediately after the Olympics. Now that the curtains have been drawn on the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games, it is worth discussing the possibility of a single mega-event that sees athletes from all walks of life compete under one umbrella and the pros and cons that such an event would entail.
There is often a cycle of ignorance among the general public and media. Lack of interest among the public will result in a lack of media coverage, and that does not help in creating public interest either. A single event with a single medals table that is impartial to any event would create equal stakes, encourage higher investment and public interest in para-sports. This would create a sense of inclusivity and would do wonders in bringing societal change in how ignorant people often see para-sport and disabled people in general. Governments would be incentivised to develop the para-sport infrastructure lest they want their medal haul to be dragged down.
One problem from an organisational standpoint would be the immense challenge of hosting a single event and added logistical issues that would be absent in the case of two separate consecutive events. A bigger event would mean more athletes pour in a short duration of time and thus would require extra accommodation and added basic facilities; larger Olympic staff would be needed for organising multiple events that would run concurrently, not to mention the extra sporting venues that would be required to be built. Venues are often reused for similar sports across the Olympic and Paralympic games, something which might not be possible if we see a merger in the future.
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Some of the logistical issues could be solved by lengthening the duration of the Games from the usual two weeks. A longer Games with different events interspaced with each other would help provide athletes, longer recovery times and improve the overall experience for the people that pour in from all around the world. Moreover, one could argue that if the Olympics never existed, the idea of introducing something like it would have brought up similar questions. Once introduced, a combined event would eventually become the norm, and the world would forget it was ever any different.
The only qualms that many have is that Paralympic sports would get submerged and lost under the attention and eyeballs that the Olympic sports receive. With able-bodied and para-sports running parallel, para-athletes might feel sidelined with all the spotlight that the Olympic stars get. Imagine Sumit Antil wins the men’s javelin F64 event with a world record, and the crowd goes crazy. One hour later, Elaine Thompson breaks the world record in the women’s 100-metre sprint; which one would make the news headlines the next day?
As three-time Paralympic gold medallist Carol Cooke says, “Having taken part in my first Paralympic Games this year, I wouldn’t want it to be put together with the Olympics. The atmosphere among most Paralympians is completely different and I hope it never changes. I really think that difference comes from the fact that the Olympics are all about big money, win a gold and some athletes are set for life. At the Paralympics win a gold and just be happy with the good job you did! So leave the games the way they are.”
The men’s and women’s competitions are primarily separate. Few sports such as boxing and wrestling have athletes separated by weight categories as well. Yet, they compete in the Olympics together. Then why have a separate event for para-athletes? The mentality that they are too different to compete in the Olympics can’t be allowed to stay. If we want to be more inclusive as a society, treat all people with respect and spread more love in this world, then combining the Olympics and the Paralympics is a good idea.