Thursday, 18 September 2008

This sporting life!

I'll immediately hold up my hand and state that I'm most decidedly not a sports fan, never have been, never will be, but - and it's a surprising 'but' to me, I have been entranced by the coverage of the Paralympics that I have watched.

The whole package of supporting a team, the astounding amount of TV and general media coverage of football (soccer!) etc leaves me with my mouth open in astonishment and bewilderment. I understand, in theory, the whole thing of being part of a group identity, part of a 'tribe', and the sense of security that some people get from it, and I can certainly see the business merits of encouraging that, and I'll admit to seeing that it can do alot for giving the disadvantaged support and the incentive to fight, and overcome, their disadvantages. However, this is all theory, and in my 61 years of life, I have never been able to empathise with this obsession - though I'll admit to a few obsessions of my own!

The people involved in the Paralympics have opened my eyes - not just the athletes themselves, but the myriad of support organisations, the spectators and families and even the media themselves have exuded such unalloyed and genuine joy, that I couldn't help but be caught up in it. The normal Olympics seemed, as with most professional sport these days, to be bedeviled with anger, bitterness, back-biting competitiveness and drugs and I was deeply depressed by the whole circus, not to mention the politics associated with it all. For me, it was a great relief when it was over and the TV schedules and media generally returned to their usual nauseating gossip!

I tuned into the Paralympics to give my eyes and brain something else to do while knitting - I often watch mindless daytime TV for that purpose, and am occasionally pleasantly surprised! The sheer delight in what they were doing on the part of the athletes was a joy, and their good sportsmanship, compared to the able bodied competitors, gave me hope for the world. Knowing that, in Chinese society, there was a long-standing discomfort with disability, not to say rejection of people so afflicted, I was overwhelmed by the way the Chinese people, as a whole, had cast aside their old ways of thinking and thrown themselves into supporting, and appreciating, the achievements of the 'disabled' competitors, and spectators too, was heart warming. This dramatic change in attitudes is an example to us all, and as someone newly faced with disability challenges, I found the whole thing deeply inspiring.

There were many inspiring stories, and many of the most prominent athletes will go on to follow in the steps of people like Tanni Grey-Thompson and become famous to a degree that would have seemed impossible to disabled athletes, and disabled people generally, only a decade or so ago. At last, we are starting to treat them as people first, and disability is only the door which has opened for them, to achievement in fields they might not have otherwise considered. For me, the image that will remain is the joy and disbelief on the face of 13 year old Eleanor Simmons when she won her race in the swimming pool - what race it was, her time etc, are all irrelevant, what matters is her joy in her sport and her joy in achievement, for its own sake - that, to me, is what sport should be about. Money, politics, fame, tribalism, to me, these have all corrupted sport and the Paralympics seemed, somehow, to have put them in their place, at least temporarily.

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