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Paralympic Pride

Gluckstein Lawyers extend best wishes our Canadian Athletes participating at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics this March 7- 16, 2014

The 2012 London Paralympic Games represented an important milestone in the modern Paralympic movement with the Games returning to their birthplace in the United Kingdom. It was Dr. Ludwig Guttman who first recognized the rehabilitative power of sport for injured soldiers during the Second World War. What began with one sport, archery, grew into the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948.

Twelve years later the city of Rome, Italy, welcomed 400 athletes from 23 countries in what is considered to be the first Paralympic Games, and the dawn of the Paralympic Movement. What has since transpired in a relatively short period of time has been remarkable. The Paralympic Games have grown to become one of the world's largest sporting events. In 2012, London welcomed over 4,200 athletes from 166 countries.

Canada's 2012 Paralympic team returned home with 31 medals seven gold, 15 silver and nine bronze.

Is that good? To the casual observer, of course, 31 medals is an impressive haul. Some Paralympic pundits however, are not so quick to agree. Taking nothing away from the stellar performances of these medal winners, and other Canadian Paralympians who attained personal bests in London, expectations for the team were, frankly, much higher. In the medal standings, Canada ranked 20th overall in gold medals, and 13th overall in total medals. Again, in competition against 165 other nations, these positions are very respectable.

Canadas exceptional track record at previous games proved to be shoes too big to be filled in 2012.

In Beijing, in 2008, Canada placed seventh overall with a total of 50 medals. Four years prior to that, in Athens, Canada finished third overall with 72 medals. And in Sydney2000, Canadian Paralympians earned a record 96 medals for a third place finish in the nation standings. The expected finish for 20127 Withgovernment funding for Paralympic sport at an all-time high leading up to London, a projected top eight finish in the gold-medal count was the publicized goal for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

So what happened?

Thats a question that by no means is an easy one to answer. With a broad brush, the Paralympic landscape is now painted with an increased level and depth of competition, not just in numbers, but in commitment by other nations to be more competitive in Paralympic sport. Perhaps Canada has been living on borrowed time, and is now settling into a position where it rightfully belongs in terms of per capita and population calculations. More to the point, China's winning bid for the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games literally awoke a sleeping giant where para-sport is concerned. China's first foray into the Paralympic Games came only as recently as 1992 in Barcelona. China finished in London in top spot in both gold and overall medals with nearly three times as many gold (95) as Russia, the number two nation, and 231 medals overall to Russia's 102.

Internationally, Canada has unfailingly served as a highly respected pioneer in the Paralympic Movement for more than four decades. But to harken to an old adage pioneers slaughtered, settlers prosper Johnny-come-lately nations now appear to be feasting on the fruits of Canadas pioneering leadership. To wit, Poland, Ukraine, Cuba, Tunisia, Korea and Iran all finished ahead of Team Canada in 2011.

Others argue, with some merit, that Canada's revolutionary approach to inclusive sport at the national level has not produced the results that we reenvisioned. Would para-sport in Canada be better served by its own independent framework - like the disability sport-specific organizations of old - as opposed to the marriage of Paralympic and Olympic athletes underthe same umbrella? The concern, in part, is that national sport organizations that began as able-bodied national sport organizations may to some degree still harbour, even if inadvertently, a bias toward able-bodied sport.

And another question that is worth pondering: Is Canada doing enough to seed, cultivate and harvest the next generation of Paralympic athletes?

Involvement in sport for kids with disabilities is Significantly less than that of their able-bodied peers to begin with, definitely a limiting factor for the Paralympic Movement in Canada. And at the same time, the ever-increasingly inclusive and integrated sport opportunities for youthwith disabilities at school and in community centres and other clubs alongside able-bodied youth may undermine interest in para-sport. Whileinclusion is a good thing, it definitely poses another challenge to field ingmore productive Paralympic teams in the future.

The medal shortage in 2012 and its forewarning for the future is certainly not lost on the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC).

David Legg, president of the CPC, recognizes the challenges in front of the organization and is responding proactively. To assist in the quest to attract more participants, coaches, officials and volunteers, the CPC has established a portal on its website to provide national resources to help get people involved in para-sport. A push to increase media coverage will also play an important role in exposing more people to para-sport. Television, print and online coverage of local, national and international events will raise the profile of different sports while making compelling role models of the athletes.

It's safe to say that there is no single rationalization or solution forwhat some consider a disappointing result in London. Perhaps 2012 was nothing more than low tide in the ebb and flow of a relatively young and powerful movement that is the Paralympics here in Canada and worldwide.Let's leave that for another day. Here and now it is time to pay tribute to all that went right for the Canadian Paralympic Team in London and to the athletes who made it happen. There is certainly much to celebrate.

A B O U T T H E A U T H O R l

Written by Jeff Tiessen, President of Disability Today Publishing Group, Inc. Jeff is a double-arm amputee and three-time Paralympian and world record holder. This article wasfirst published in Why Not Magazine, 2013. For more on Jeff Tiessen, visitwww.disabilitiytodaynetwork.com

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