Friday August 22, 2014

Public missing the allure of Paralympics


View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: What are your thoughts on the recently completed Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia?

Not enough interest

Following the Canadian team performance at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, one of the big stories was that medal winners did not receive bonuses as their Olympic counterparts did.

On March 17, Hayley Wickenheiser, Olympic gold medal winner and Canada’s greatest female hockey player tweeted: “@CDNParalympics athletes win medals and no bonuses but @CDNOlympicTeam athletes win and do? Makes no sense to me @pmharper #equality.”

Of course, it is all about the money. Athlete bonuses are paid by the Canadian Olympic Committee through corporate sponsorships. The Canadian Paralympic Committee simply does not have the money. It simply does not have the money because there simply isn’t the public interest. With little public interest, there is little media interest. With little media interest there is little corporate interest.

Without getting into a chicken and egg argument, it is a shame. It is a shame because these are not disabled athletes; they are not blind athletes, limbless athletes or intellectually challenged athletes. They are athletes, full stop.

And, while the sports they engage in are for the most part versions of more familiar sports—for example, sledge hockey—they are unique in and of themselves and very exciting.

I have to admit, I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to paying these athletes their due. Part of it is just lack of familiarity, which goes back to the chicken and egg thing. Part of it is Olympic fatigue. After two weeks of regular Olympics, which can be quite emotional and time consuming, my motivation factor was a little low.

What I did watch, however, was in some ways even more inspiring than the regular games. What these folks accomplish in spite of their disabilities is truly remarkable.

Perhaps the Paralympics will never achieve the same status as the Olympics, but there is growing interest. Individual athletes are starting to secure corporate sponsorships and the public is starting to recognize the appeal of the games.

I hope this is something that will continue to grow, but in the meantime, I would just like to take the opportunity to congratulate our Canadian Parlympians for their third place finish at Sochi.

— Thom Barker

Deserve equality

As a nation we took huge pride in Canadian athletes participating in the recent Winter Olympics held in Sochi.

I was sitting in McDonald’s Restaurant and experienced the collective excitement as the Canadian women’s hockey team tied the score in the closing moments of the final game and then won the gold in overtime over the nemesis United States.

You do not often see, outside a sports bar, a public collective cheering as one for something going on on a television. It was in its purest form an outpouring of pride.

It was the same thing that had many Canadians, including in Yorkton, venturing out at 6 a.m. on a frosty February morning to gather at watering holes to watch the men in the gold medal hockey game.

We crawled out from our warm homes to gather because we understood watching a win as a collective was important. It was important to our national pride, and we wanted to share that emotion whether we won, or lost.

A couple of weeks later the Paralympics were held at the same venues in Russia, although the efforts of those athletes seemed all but lost.

Canadian athletes did us proud, with seven gold medals, behind only host Russia with an astounding 30, and Germany with nine.

The Canadian medal total was 16, fourth among competing nations, again led by the host Russians with 80.

We should be as proud of the Paralympic success as we were of the earlier Olympics. The athletes are certainly as dedicated in their training and compete with an equal desire to represent their country well.

And in the case of Sochi a true Canadian sports legend added to his stellar resume.

In the cross-country events Brian McKeever, would add to seven goals he had acquired in previous Games. McKeever would win three individual events to become the first Canadian Winter Paralympian to win 10 gold medals in a career.

That is the stuff of legend and truly something we should all feel pride in.

And there was curling. Coming off wins in both men’s and women’s at the Olympics, and being a curling crazy country, eyes were on the wheelchair curling team, which came into Sochi as the two-time defending Paralympic champions and reigning world champions.

After compiling a 7-2 record in the round robin, Jim Armstrong’s rink defeated arch-rival Russia in the final to give Canada its gold medal three-peat.

Again the stuff of history in the making, although again done in relative obscurity compared to the wins of Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs.

Hopefully, in time, the efforts of paralympians will be seen on an equal level as those of able-bodied athletes, they deserve equality in our cheers as in all things in life.

— Calvin Daniels

Respect and admiration

Many people who watch the Paralympics on television do so simply because they are weaning themselves off of international sports slowly after the completion of the Olympic Games.

Far too many people don’t truly appreciate the hard work and determination that the Paralympic athletes from all countries have to put forth to be able to compete.

Think about it. These are people competing at a high level who are not at their physical best.

These are people who are physically handicapped yet have not actually allowed that handicap to hinder them.

These are people who, when life gave them lemons, they made lemonade and downed it in one gulp.

The Paralympic Games are just as, if not more entertaining than the Olympic Winter Games.

Why? Because the people competing do so not for recognition but for the love of their sport and to prove to everyone that, while they may be physically handicapped, they are not beaten because of it. In fact, they are stronger.

I take my hat off to each and every Paralympian (and I rarely remove my hat) no matter what country they are from because every single one of them have earned my respect and admiration.

— Randy Brenzen



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