Today, while the world watches the opening ceremony of the Rio Paralympic Games', the athletes want the world to see their elite-level athleticism, not their disability.
The Paralympic Games is...
"not about the inclusion of people with disabilities.
We are the sporting elite.
People should be watching because it's amazing,
not because we overcame obstacles.
The athletes can't stand that anymore."
-- Fernando Fernandes, Canoeing World Champion
Changing how the world thinks about disability and para-sport. Media headlines presented troubled preparations for these games. Claims were made that the Olympic's organizing committee in Brazil tapped into funds allocated specifically for the Paralympics to make improvements for the Olympics. It has been reported that funds went to improve the Olympic Village, and to deal with the algae turning the Olympic pools green. Of course, this left the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) scrambling to find the necessary funds for the Paralympic Games.
The resulting funding crisis is a reminder that disabled persons are treated as less than nondisabled persons. Sadly, this is neither new nor shocking to the disability community, but it is disheartening.
As of three weeks ago, the Rio 2016 tickets for the International games, which celebrate the best athletes in the disability community, had largely gone unpurchased. There is an audience for the games. We saw it with the sold-out venues during 2012's London Paralympics. However, in Rio, only 12% of tickets had been claimed, making the financial situation dire. Some of this is, no doubt, a difference in how the two nations view disability. Though individuals with disabilities struggle with oppression and discrimination everywhere in the world, England has a bit more support for its disabled athletes, than Brazil. Brazil still lacks full integration for its disabled citizens.
Because of the funding crisis, some nations had to wait for their funding to come through or face not being able to attend the games. While funding has been an issue for many nations, the United States added 22 new Paralympians to their roster. The slots opened up after Russia was disqualified from the games, and their spots were reallocated to other nations already attending the games. Canada, on the other hand, secured other arrangements to ensure all their athletes made it to Rio without incident.
Total ticket sales are reported to be 1.6 million sold of the 2.5 million tickets available. #FillTheSeats became a global fundraising campaign endorsed by celebrities including rock band ColdPlay, Prince Harry, and many Paralympians who asked the world to help fund tickets for 10,000 Brazilian youngsters to attend the Paralympics. To date, these numbers fall short of the London 2012 Paralympics which sold a record 2.7 million tickets.
The biggest issue with the funding crisis is the fact that the Olympics committee in Brazil didn't think anything of taking money from the Paralympics' fund. Paralympic athletes train just as hard as non-disabled Olympians. They deserve the same level of respect, acknowledgment, and legitimacy as their Olympic counterparts.
It's time for a renewed commitment to ensuring the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by creating "a new world without barriers and limits to human abilities".
Gluckstein Lawyers extend best wishes our Canadian Athletes participating at the Rio Paralympics this September 7- 18, 2016