the Paralympic Agitos Flag waves against a cloudy blue sky
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Paralympic athletes deserve better

By Melanie Goldberg

It’s time to shine the light on disability sport.

The Paralympics have been and gone for another 3 years and Team GB have yet again proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. Although short of their medal tally from Rio 2016, with 124 medals in total won over the 12 days, evidently the pandemic has not inhibited their drive for success. From Archery to Judo to Wheelchair Tennis, the UK’s success placed them at an overall second in the entire Games and just shy of twice as many medals as the Olympic team.

Some of Team GB’s  highlights included gold in wheelchair rugby, Sarah Storey’s 17th gold medal in track cycling, Lauren Steadman’s gold in the triathlon, David Smith’s boccia gold and Ali Jawad’s 6th place in powerlifting. Heart-warmingly, husband and wife, Neil and Lora Fachie both accomplished gold on the same day in separate cycling events. However, on a sad note, five time Paralympic gold medalist Ellie Simmonds announced her retirement from Paralympic swimming after an astounding career, having competed in four Games before the age of 27. However, the UK Para Swim Team will continue to thrive with the likes of multiple medal winners Bethany Firth, Maisie Summers-Newton and Jessica-Jane Applegate.

“Heart-warmingly, husband and wife, Neil and Lora Fachie both accomplished gold on the same day in separate cycling events.”

Even more impressive is the outstanding Scottish contingency, who have taken home a record-breaking 21 medals, an increase of four since their performance in Rio 2016. From athletics to cycling, powerlifting to wheelchair tennis: Scottish athletes have proven themselves once again that they are a vital part of Team GB. Para Swimmers have continued to prove their success within both Scottish and British Para Sports, with medals achieved by Toni Shaw, Stephen Clegg and Scott Quin. Runners Owen Miller, Maria Lyle, Sammi Kinghorn and four-time Paralympic medalist Libby Clegg also cemented their success with five medals between them.

Given that these athletes have more than proven that they are an asset to Team GB, have they been given the recognition they deserve? Whilst the BBC scrambled for the broadcasting rights to the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics, which were granted by the IOC, it seems apparent that the same enthusiasm was not extended to the Paralympics. Conversely, Channel 4 eagerly claimed the rights for the Paralympics, after a long battle to secure this proprietorship, which was initially campaigned for prior to London 2012. Since then, they have stepped up their game and demonstrated that the Paralympics and Olympics are of, and should be treated as such with, equal measure and excitement. For Tokyo, they pledged “300 hours of round the clock Paralympic coverage” and a promise that “over 70% of Channel 4’s presenting team are disabled,” amongst others. However, a quick search of both yields vastly different results, with the Team GB Olympic highlights including numerous highlight reels and their Paralympic counterpart, with just a few articles from some B-list news sites. Even the information for this article required a reasonable amount of hunting.

“…the Paralympics and Olympics are of, and should be treated as such with, equal measure and excitement.”

The inequality at the professional level of sport is a reflection of the systematic barriers that contribute to this framework. A lack of representation of disabled athletes in mainstream sports media is just one of many obstacles that disabled people face. Whilst part of a much bigger, systemic issue surrounding discrepancies between athletes and Para-athletes, equal pay at a professional level is a small, but incredibly vital step towards minimizing that inequality. Pay inequality signifies the message that some are worth more than others for the same work. The Australian Gold Medal Olympians received tens of thousands in payment whilst their gold medal Paralympians received nothing

Another major issue is physical accessibility to sporting opportunities, which is apparent even in our own institutions. Just a quick look on GUSA’s website and there are no visibly disabled athletes or clubs in sight, and a quick search of “disability” yields unrelated, meagre findings. This is shameful to say the least. The university and their unions preach inclusivity and diversity but are reluctant to take any meaningful action. Election time is when the promises of more investment are made, and quickly broken. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Glasgow is not alone, with no apparent dedicated disability sports clubs at neither Stirling, Edinburgh nor Aberdeen. When universities laud their successful students and alumni athletes by providing additional funding and media exposure, why is it so apparently difficult to provide something as simple as club sport? Disabled students and disabled athletes deserve better.

These issues are not unique to the UK, and many countries have little to no opportunities whatsoever for Para Athletes. However, with the number of Games participants growing every year and with viewership in the billions, there is no better time to recognise the value and worth of Para Athletes.


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