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Unequal Track

Can able and disable athletes compete together?

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South African Natalie Du Toit, whose left leg is amputated below the knee, qualified in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics. She became the first athlete with a disability to qualify for the final of an event in the largest ablebodied sporting meet, the Olympics.

Natalie has won over 15 gold medals at various international events for disabled sportspersons and, in the Beijing Olympics, finished in 16th place in the 10,000 metre swim, just over 1.22 minutes behind the winner.

While a few disabled athletes do qualify to compete against the able-bodied in certain sports, the movement globally is not so much for the disabled to compete against the able-bodied as for a merging of para games with able-bodied events.

Recently, Dr Robert Steadward, one of the founders of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), created a stir when he called for the Paralympic Games to be combined with the Winter Olympics.

Such a merger would mean not only that para games are held along with ablebodied sports, but also that medals won in para games would count in the final tally of a country. Only then, believe the proponents of this move, will disability sports be taken as seriously and disabled sportspeople get as much recognition and funding as able-bodied sportspeople.

The Commonwealth Games created history in 2002 by becoming the first fully inclusive international multi-sport games. This meant sporting events for people with disabilities would be held along with able-bodied sports events and have a common medal tally.

But not all persons associated with disability sports are enthusiastic about integrating disability sports with sports for the able-bodied . The debate on whether integration is desirable rages on internationally.

Dr Steadward suggested that the two games could remain separate in terms of athletes and events, but could share resources like housing and transportation. He felt such a move would reflect a new level of acceptance of people with disabilities and bring more visibility to the Paralympics , which generally garner far less media coverage than the Olympics.

Dr Steadward and the present-day IPC are in agreement that the Paralympic Games being the second largest sporting event in the world with nearly 4,000 participants makes it logistically impossible for any one city to host them simultaneously with the summer Olympics. That’s why Dr Steadward suggests clubbing them with the winter Games.

However, the IPC does not agree with Dr Steadward’s case for integration. Steffi Klein, who handles media and communications for IPC, explains that the committee believes that “the Paralympic Games and the Paralympics Movement with its mission, vision and values can and should stand on its own, staging a great sport event for elite athletes with a disability” .

Combining medal tallies would not make sense in this case, she added. While admitting there’s much less public interest in the Paralympics than in the Olympics, Klein pointed out that awareness , acceptance of and public interest in the Paralympics Games had grown significantly over the last decade.

The International Olympic Committee too cites "institutional, technical and organisational difficulties" for not merging the two events. "The leaders of sports for those with a disability themselves do not want this integration. They have received the names Olympic and Paralympic — this proves that the IOC considers them as athletes in their own right," says Emmanuelle Moreau, Head of Media Relations IOC. Moreau adds that IOC does not keep medal tallies and that the practice of media outlets providing medal tallies was independent of the IOC.

It’s been a long journey for the Paralympics from being separate events to ones held in the same city and the same venue as the main Games, though not fully merged. While the two were always held in the same year, since Paralympics 1988 and Winter Paralympics 1992 they have also taken place at the same venue. And in June 2001, the IOC and IPC signed an agreement securing this practice for the future, which meant that from the 2012 bid process onwards, the host city chosen to host the Olympic Games would be obliged to also host the Paralympics.

Even for the CWG, becoming fully integrated was a huge progress from 1994 when athletes were first included just in exhibition events. And now, integrated games have become the accepted and established policy for the CWG.

The number of disability sport demonstration events at major sporting events is increasing as integration makes inroads on a sport-by-sport basis. While full integration of the Olympics and Paralympics might seem a long way off, more communication and integration between disabled and able-bodied sporting organisations across the world is leading to a steady breaking down of barriers. For instance, in countries like the UK the same bodies now handle able-bodied and disabled sportspersons for their disciplines. This is a big step from the earlier practice of keeping the two separate. South African Natalie Du Toit, whose left leg is amputated below the knee, qualified in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics. She became the first athlete with a disability to qualify for the final of an event in the largest ablebodied sporting meet, the Olympics.

Natalie has won over 15 gold medals at various international events for disabled sportspersons and, in the Beijing Olympics, finished in 16th place in the 10,000 metre swim, just over 1.22 minutes behind the winner.

While a few disabled athletes do qualify to compete against the able-bodied in certain sports, the movement globally is not so much for the disabled to compete against the able-bodied as for a merging of para games with able-bodied events.

Recently, Dr Robert Steadward, one of the founders of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), created a stir when he called for the Paralympic Games to be combined with the Winter Olympics.

Such a merger would mean not only that para games are held along with ablebodied sports, but also that medals won in para games would count in the final tally of a country. Only then, believe the proponents of this move, will disability sports be taken as seriously and disabled sportspeople get as much recognition and funding as able-bodied sportspeople.

The Commonwealth Games created history in 2002 by becoming the first fully inclusive international multi-sport games. This meant sporting events for people with disabilities would be held along with able-bodied sports events and have a common medal tally.

But not all persons associated with disability sports are enthusiastic about integrating disability sports with sports for the able-bodied . The debate on whether integration is desirable rages on internationally.

Dr Steadward suggested that the two games could remain separate in terms of athletes and events, but could share resources like housing and transportation. He felt such a move would reflect a new level of acceptance of people with disabilities and bring more visibility to the Paralympics , which generally garner far less media coverage than the Olympics.

Dr Steadward and the present-day IPC are in agreement that the Paralympic Games being the second largest sporting event in the world with nearly 4,000 participants makes it logistically impossible for any one city to host them simultaneously with the summer Olympics. That’s why Dr Steadward suggests clubbing them with the winter Games.

However, the IPC does not agree with Dr Steadward’s case for integration. Steffi Klein, who handles media and communications for IPC, explains that the committee believes that “the Paralympic Games and the Paralympics Movement with its mission, vision and values can and should stand on its own, staging a great sport event for elite athletes with a disability” .

Combining medal tallies would not make sense in this case, she added. While admitting there’s much less public interest in the Paralympics than in the Olympics, Klein pointed out that awareness , acceptance of and public interest in the Paralympics Games had grown significantly over the last decade.

The International Olympic Committee too cites "institutional, technical and organisational difficulties" for not merging the two events. "The leaders of sports for those with a disability themselves do not want this integration. They have received the names Olympic and Paralympic — this proves that the IOC considers them as athletes in their own right," says Emmanuelle Moreau, Head of Media Relations IOC. Moreau adds that IOC does not keep medal tallies and that the practice of media outlets providing medal tallies was independent of the IOC.

It’s been a long journey for the Paralympics from being separate events to ones held in the same city and the same venue as the main Games, though not fully merged. While the two were always held in the same year, since Paralympics 1988 and Winter Paralympics 1992 they have also taken place at the same venue. And in June 2001, the IOC and IPC signed an agreement securing this practice for the future, which meant that from the 2012 bid process onwards, the host city chosen to host the Olympic Games would be obliged to also host the Paralympics.

Even for the CWG, becoming fully integrated was a huge progress from 1994 when athletes were first included just in exhibition events. And now, integrated games have become the accepted and established policy for the CWG.

The number of disability sport demonstration events at major sporting events is increasing as integration makes inroads on a sport-by-sport basis. While full integration of the Olympics and Paralympics might seem a long way off, more communication and integration between disabled and able-bodied sporting organisations across the world is leading to a steady breaking down of barriers. For instance, in countries like the UK the same bodies now handle able-bodied and disabled sportspersons for their disciplines. This is a big step from the earlier practice of keeping the two separate.

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