I don't usually watch televised sports, and in recent years that come to include the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games and any other Games...including Opening and Closing Ceremonies. So when my friend asked if I'd seen the para-athletes involved in the opening of the Commonwealth Games, alongside the non-disabled athletes, I had to say no, but I was genuinely sorry that I missed it. I've always wondered why the Paralympics are so set off from the actual Olympics, especially when it comes to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Disabled or not, all these athletes not all Olympians, so shouldn't they all be involved in the Olympics Opening and Closing ceremonies?
So, very cool that in the Commonwealth games, they were.
Then my friend further blew my mind and said that in Commonwealth games, disabled and non-disabled athletes compete in the same Games, and that the Commonwealth Games were the first Games to do this.
This I needed to investigate. So I did.
Integrated Commonwealth Games
My friend is not in the habit of not being wrong, so no surprise, when I looked this up, that yes, in this year`s Commonwealth games there are 5 sports and 22 medal events in which the events for disabled athletes happen within the same Games as those for non-disabled athletes: athletics, swimming, powerlifting, lawn bowling, and track cycling. Integrated. No waiting for a separate Games for disabled athletes.
Granted, this is a small number of events. But the Games adds new events each year (track cycling is new this year). Also during these Commonwealth Games, intellectually disabled swimmers competed for the first time: Daniel Fox of Australia won won the Gold, Mitchell Kilduff, also Australian, took the Silver, and Thomas Hader of England got the Bronze in the men's 200 freestyle S14 para-swimming heat on July 26.
And apparently the Commonwealth Games has been considering integration for a while. The first demonstration para-sport events happened in 1994, and the Games became fully integrated in 2002.
Maybe everyone is laughing at me right now and saying, "Silly non-sports person. Everyone knows that the Commonwealth Games are integrated." But I have to wonder if people do, because it seems to me that people would be at least talking about holding the Olympics to a higher standard of integration if they did. This feels like it should be a game-changer (no pun intended) to me.
It feels like we should be further along in acknowledging that everyone's athletic dreams are valid, and shouldn't be dismissed because someone is disabled.
It feels like Paralympians should be much closer than they are now to getting equal billing with non-disabled Olympians. But, not being a Paralympian, I don't know if I can even legitimately say that. It's always seemed to me like the media and the world treat the Paralympics like an afterthought, like something that's just around to tune into after the main event is over, but perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe the people who compete in the Games don't feel like it's treated that way at all. I just feel like the Commonwealth Games have the right idea, and wonder why the Olympics haven't taken the same steps, especially since the Olympics wasn't always like this. Both before and after the creation of the Paralympics, a number of disabled athletes have competed directly with non-disabled athletes in the Olympics (sorry, Wikipedia is the best I can do on this), and the Paralympic Games themselves are relatively new.
Really, what is there to prevent, in any Games, events for disabled athletes and non-disabled athletes happening alongside each other?
More Things "Olympic" and Integration
I'm particularly excited about the intellectually disabled men participating in the swimming events at the Commonwealth Games. It seems like it's become awfully easy to to pigeonhole intellectually disabled people into the Special Olympics which, while providing a valuable service, may not be a sporting environment that necessarily meets everyone's goals. When I was involved with the movement, I was amazed by the athletic talent that I was seeing in some of the competitors. I wondered why, when they could could easily keep up on a team with non-disabled people, they weren't participating on those teams?
Why was a segregated team their only option if they wanted to play sports?
The general answers that I got were that people like being on the Special Olympics teams with their friends, that they were comfortable, that it was place for them to feel good about themselves and a good way to learn and practice social skills and lessons about sportsmanship without the pressure of a more conventional league or team. All of which are true, so it's a great thing that the Special Olympics teams are around for those that prefer that sort of environment...and it's been gratifying and comforting to see that all of the Special Olympics teams with which I've been involved have had amazing coaches and volunteers who have been truly committed to making sure that all the team members get as much out of the team experience as possible, which is fantastic.
But aren't we in the business of giving people options and trying to break down barriers? I don't believe in pushing people into situations where they're not comfortable, but I also don't like the idea that non-disabled people play with non-disabled people and disabled people play with disabled people.
Kudos and thank you to the Special Olympics movement for getting us this far, to the point where it's accepted and recognized that intellectually disabled people deserve the chance to be involved in sports and, that it's given the world the chance to see how much they benefit from the experience. But you don't get to the Commonwealth Games through Special Olympics (at least I don't think you do). Shouldn't the Special Olympics experience be now one of the options for team sports for disabled people, instead of *the* option?
After all, intellectually disabled athletes are now being integrated into the swimming events at the Commonwealth Games, as disabled athletes into the games in general.
Bottom line: The bar has been raised. Your move, rest of the sporting world.
By the way, here's some other stuff that happened last week
1. In America, the UN's Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passed a Senate Sub-Subcommittee vote, and its ratification will be debated in the larger Senate. There's been much resistance to ratifying this UN treaty, despite the fact that 146 countries have already done so. The concerns, all on the Republican side, are that ratifying the treaty gives the UN too much power over families of disabled children, particularly those that are home-schooled. Please let Senators know that you'd like to see the CRPD ratified!
2. The Americans with Disabilities Act turned 26! How has the ADA helped you?
3. Traumatic Brain Injury activist Cheryl Green and I had an awesome conversation that she'll be making into a podcast...I'll let you know when and where you can hear it! Find out more about Cheryl here.