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Raising the bar The history of sport for the disabled, the struggle for recognition of elite athletes with a disability and why this recognition is so hard to achieve

Bachelorthesis Cultural Anthropology Student: Barbara Beek Email: barbarabeek1@gmail.com Student number: 5993288 20 april 2011 Supervisor: drs. S. Ramdas, M.A. Second reader: Tijo Salverda University of Amsterdam Wordcount: 9630 1


“Declaration: I Barbara Beek have read and understood the University of Amsterdam plagiarism policy [published on http://www.student.uva.nl/fraude plagiaat/voorkomen.cfm]. I declare that this assignment is entirely my own work, all sources have been properly acknowledged, and that I have not previously submitted this work, or any version of it, for assessment in any other paper.�

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/olympics/7934650/London 2012 Paralympics Channel 4 makes disability sport its main event.html (last entered: 3/4/2011) 2


Keywords: Disability, sport, empowerment, Paralympics Abstract : Sport for the disabled have made a huge transformation in the last 70 years. From part of the revalidation program, sport for people with a disability have raised the bar with the Paralympic Games as the ultimate goal for elite athletes with a disability (EAD’s). In both the social sciences and the disability movement, sport is seen as an important tool for the integration, inclusion, and the fighting against stigma for people with a disability (Peers 2009). The visibility of people with a disability, and especially the elite athlete with a disability, is thought to change the perception on society of what people with a disability are capable of achieving. But the struggle for recognition of (elite) sport for the disabled continues. This is due to different factors. The media coverage, discourse about people with a disability in mainstream society, vague classifications all contribute to skepticism about the "realness" of elite sports for the disabled as equal to "normal" elite sports. As long as this will be the case, the visibility of EAD's will not necessarily lead to the recognition of disability sports as equal to mainstream, or “normal� sports.

Introduction Sport for the disabled have made a huge transformation in the last 70 years. From part of the revalidation program, sport for people with a disability (PWD) have set the bar higher and higher for the athletes, with the Paralympic Games as the ultimate goal for elite athletes with a disability. In both the social sciences and the disability movement, participation in disability sports is generally viewed as having positive effects on the position of people with disabilities, like integration, inclusion, and the fighting of stigma for people with a disability (Gold & Gold 2007: Berger 2008: Berger 2009: Savitz 2006). In this thesis, I will not argue against some of the positive effects of sports for individuals with a disability. On the contrary, I strongly encourage the participation in all kinds of sport for people with disabilities. But I am going to take a closer look at the ways in which the elite sport for disabilities is 3


struggling to gain recognition from society, and why this recognition seems to be so hard to achieve. I will argue that it is partly due the way the image of the disabled athlete is portrayed to the mainstream media; the idea of empowerment relies heavily on the implication of people with a disability as frail or weak (Peers 2009). If we take a closer look at the difficulties with gaining recognition, it becomes possible to take a critical look to some of the positive effects mentioned above. The visibility of people with a disability, and especially the elite athlete with a disability, is thought to change the perception in society of what people with a disability are capable of achieving (ibid). Disability is not a quality of the individual but, rather, a social construction (Berger 2009: 9). This leads to the question, whether and how it is possible to change the way we think about disability. If the social construction of disability is an ever changing concept, than we can look in depth at certain empirical phenomenon to explain and maybe even predict change. In this thesis, I will show the development and status of (elite) sport for the disabled as a way to change the view of disability in society. But as will become clear in this thesis, there is a difficulty for gaining recognition for elite sport for the disabled in the first place. I am going to explain this difficulty, by describing the visibility of elite athletes, participating in different events. I will take a critical look at the presupposed empowering aspects of disability sports. I will also discuss the integration of disabled athletes in normal sport events. The way in which they are presented to mainstream society in newspapers, television and in magazines is important for the recognition of disabled athletes. When did the history of elite sports for the disabled start, and what kind of philosophy is broadcasted through these sports? These ideas changed over the past 60 years. Did this affect the view on the disabled in society? Does the growth of disability sports to elite sports have an effect on the division of athletes and elite athletes in the disability community? This leads to the next research question:

What is the history of elite sport for the disabled and why does it not necessarily 4


lead to empowerment and inclusion of people with a disability?

After these issues I will look at some recent developments regarding sport for the disabled. How is it recently been integrated in "normal" sport events and how do both the athletes and themselves as wel as the International Paralympic Committee aim to reach out to a broader audience? Are there EAD's participating in normal events? Are there able bodied athletes who participate in the sport for the disabled? What is the effect on this developments? I will end with a conclusion on how elite sports for the disabled, despite all the difficulties, should be seen as a real sport to challenge the stigma surrounding people with a disability. Before turning to the empowering aspect of elite sports for people with a disability, it is important to clarify some of the definitions used in this thesis. Who are we talking about when I use the term “ elite athlete with a disability”? The “performance ethos” of competitive sport entails several elements of what it means to be an “athlete”: sacrificing other interests for “the game”, striving for distinction, accepting the risk of defeat, playing through pain, and refusing to accept limits in the pursuit of excellence (Coakley in Berger 2008: 649). Nixon (in Berger 2008: 650) states that “disabled athletes have shown that they want opportunities to compete in elite” sport, and he thinks the best way to accommodate this interest is to develop differentiated sport structures that allow for “continuum of options … ranging from relatively uncompetitive recreation sport where ‘everyone is a winner’ to highly competitive elite sport where only a very talented few are selected or earn the right to compete”. These very talented few are those I will address with the term elite athletes with a disability. Due the fact that most of the literature on disability sports is written on wheelchair sport, my focus on disability in this thesis will be mostly on those athletes using a wheelchair in sports. A significant amount of the articles used in this thesis are written by either disabled athletes themselves, or by people who are closely connected to the world of disability sport. My own interest in this topic came from my involvement as a 5


volunteer at an internation international rugby tournament. Not being a disabled athlete myself, the only thing I can try and hopefully succesfully accomplish, is empathize with people wit disabilities, use the research to advance the principle of inclusion for all and try not to misrepresent the experiences (Berger 2009: 8) that are quoted in this thesis. Empowerment Sport for the disabled as a way of visibility of people with a disability is since long seen, by both the disability movement and in the social science, as a way in which inclusion, acceptation and positive imaging of people with disabilities can be achieved (Savitz 2006). The USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) states the following regarding the Paralympics:

"...the Paralympic Games is proud of the tradition it has established to bring elite disabled athletic competition to the forefront of public consciousness. Competitive sports have proved to be an effective vehicle to promote equality, inclusion, accessibility and awareness about the capabilities of those with a physical disability. Competitive sports dispel the age old stigma surrounding disabilities and illuminate the realm of possibility. The Paralympics truly signifies all that is right in sport." 1

Scholars in the field of disability studies have recognized that sport participation may potentially serve as a site of empowerment and resistance for people with disabilities (Ashton Shaeffer et al. in Berger 2009: 20). It seems like this is an important, if not the most important aspect of sport for the disabled. Savitz states that wheelchair sports brought the disabled out into the community in masses, which she wrote in 1976 , and again in her foreword in 2006 (Satitz 2006: I). 1

http://www.usaba.org/Pages/sportsinformation/paralympics.html

(5/2/2011) 6


Numerous scholars have pointed to the fact that sports have a positive effect on people with a disability (Savits 2006; Berger 2008; Nixon 2007). It mediates participants’ perceptions of the stigma associated with disability by helping them to view their disability as less limiting (Bedini & Taub in Lindeman & Cherney 2008: 110). Taub et al (in Lindeman & Cherney 2008:ibid) found that while disabled male interview respondents felt they were challenging stereotypes of the disabled as sick or weak, the respondents also expressed internalized perceptions of conventional beauty that reinforces norms that are oppressive for individuals with disabilities. The benefits for the people with disabilities themselves as a way to meet people in the same situation and to be able to share stories, built muscles and feel the pleasure of the sports are comparible to sportsmen without a disability. I do not want to critize all the positive effects on the individual person with a disability, but the fact that the athletes use the participation in sport a way to cope with the stigma’s associated with them does not necessarily lead to the changing of the same stigma in society. In reality the ideal goal of promoting equality, inclusion, accessibility and awareness about the capabilities of those with a physical disability, is not always achieved. Peers, a Paralympian athlete herself, gives a useful analysis of this difference between the empowering and shows the existence of an explicit discourse of Paralympic empowerment and their implicit disabling effects (Peers 2009: 656). According to Peers, the explicit ideology of the heroic Paralympian relies on the discourse of the pittful cripple (ibid: 654). If this implicit ideoly of the pitfull cripple, or the more nuanced view of people with a disability as weak or frail, is necessary for the heroic elite athlete with a disability, how does it show in the way in which society produces and consumes the image of the elite athlete with a disability? The criteria for participating and rules and regulations are vague, which leads to people question the "realness" of the sport as competition, which is an important, if not the most important fact, about the interest in elite sports. As Berger notes, a major obstacle for the recognition of wheelchair sports, and I will argue to disability sports in general, is that they lack legitimacy per se (Berger 2009: 142). By this he 7


means that sports for the disabled is not viewed as a sport as any other sport. It is closely connected to stigmatized preconceptions of people with a disability as weak or frail. As long as this remains true, the transformative potential of wheelchair sports, and disability sports, for reordering the way people think about able bodied and disable bodied athletes and about able bodied and disabled bodied people more generally will be undermined. (Berger 2009: 143). The fact that this empowerment discourse is so dominant in the discourse around disability sports, makes the struggle for recognition of disability sport as equal and legitimate as mainstream sports, very difficult. Because what does this empowerment mean for the individual and what does it mean in mainstream society? For the individual There is a lot of emphasis on the individual experience of the disabled athlete in the literature on the benefits of practicing sport, where multiple positive effects are highlighted. Berger points to the fact that for many disabled athletes, the primary benefit is the intrinsic satisfaction, the reward felt for playing the game (Berger 2009: 20). They also enjoy the camaraderie and affirmation they get from teammates and peers (ibid: 143). They learn to view challenges as possibilities rather than as obstacles(ibid: 143). As Berger mentions, these enhancements are not simply therapeutic, for they are the same ones often enjoyed by the able bodied who participate in athletics (Berger 2009: 21). Berger conducted research on elite athletes with a disability (2008: 162). He interviewed elite wheelchair athletes in the United States, and non of the players he interviewed were preoccupied with their place in the disability right movement. In their day to day lives they do not think much about oppositional disability consciousness (Deal, Engel & Munger, Galvin & Watson in Berger 2008: 162).

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Still, this idea of disability consciousness is very often used by sociologist when describing elite sports for people with a disabillity. The idea of changing negative perceptions of people with a disability through elite sports for the disabled is highlighted by Berger from his own experience

"As a sociologist, the entire scene has struck me as one that disrupts conventional assumptions of what a disabled body can do, scrambles the categories of ability and disability, makes me think of the sport as a "performance region" that could potentially alter the public's perception about people with disabilities. (Berger 2009: 5)

Savitz, noted before, wrote a book called “Wheelchair champions”. It was published in 1978. In a reprint in 2006, she wrote in the introduction:

“I feel now as I felt then when I wrote the book, that each generation should know the struggles and accomplishments of the pioneers who determined that the disabled could establish themselves as self fulfilled active citizens”. “Wheelchair champions is a history of the courageous and determined disabled and able bodied who dared to believe that those in wheelchairs could be competitive in sports as well as in all areas of life.”

Where Berger explains his excitement in sociological terms, Savitz is at a loss of words to describe her appreciation for the disabled athletes. It is obvious that Savitz has a lot of respect for the athletes, but the way in which she portrays it, might not be in the best interest of the athletes she wants to honour. Because if we compare this statement with the idea of explicit and the implicit ideologies of Peers 9


mentioned earlier, we can apply this theory to the above statement of Savitz. In the above quotation, Savitz explicitely mentions the courageous and determined individuals who dared to believe that those in wheelchairs could be competitive in sports as well as in all areas of life. The implicit discours that can be read, is that of the disabled person as someone who is not supposed to be competitive in sports, even as someone who is not in itself competitive in all areas of life. Peers, herself portrayed as a heroe, is critical of this “heroic Paralympian” (Peers 2009: 654)

“I read my life story transformed into that of The Paralympian. … I read my new coherent life narrative: my salvation from the depths of disability by the progressive, benevolent empowerment of sport. I realize how the heroic Paralympian relies on the discourses of the pitiful cripple who can’t overcome. (Peers 2009: 654).

This idea of Peers, of the implicit ideology of the pitiful cripple behind the empowerment ideology, makes it very difficult to gain recognition as a real sportsmen. If there is an implicit ideology, which shaped peoples perception of your achievement as an EAD, how can you gain the recognition as a sportsman, pure and simple? Fighting stigma Pistorius, a Paralympic athlete who misses his lower legs, is a succesful Paralympic athlete. He wanted to participate in the Olympic Games, but due to his artificial legs was banned from enetering. He wants his achievements in sports to be acknowledged without his ability constantly mentioned:

"I have a million of talents and skills. If you look at the whole, that doesn't account for much". 2 2

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He is seen as an example of the disabled athlete. He mentions that he takes this position for granted, because he feels the need to teach people that the difference between abled and disabled athletes is not as big as people think (ibid). For a lot of athletes this is not the case. The Amsterdam Terminaters, the quad rugby team from Amsterdam which I viewed more than once, will probably not agree; some of them can not even catch a ball, still they excel in their own sport. It is like Hilvoorde argues in the case of Pistorius. He argues that Pistorius practices a different game (Hilvoorde 2009:2225). By trying to include the disability sports into the normal sports world, unrealistic expectations are generated. In a study published in 2010 on the effect of a physical active lifestyle in managing stigma experienced by individuals with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), it is found that such a lifestyle may be beneficial or the fighting of stigma (Tyrrell et al. 2010). Participation in disability sports communicates to ableist society a message that resists typical perceptions of physically disabled persons as weak or frail. (Lindeman & Cherney 2008) But if we see this results in the argument of Peers, we can find a confirmation of the fact that such a beneficial result may underline the implicit discourse; there is a need for disabled persons to be perceived as weak or frail in order to benefit from the participation in disability sports.

History of sports for people with a disability The history of sports for the disabled, in contrast to the long history of the Olympic Games, as far as we know, takes us back to 120 years ago. The first stirring of disability sport dates back to the late 19th century, primarily involving the work of activists in the deaf community (Gold & Gold 2007: 134), while wheelchair sports have an even shorter history. They have their roots toward the end of World War II (Savitz 2006: 1). Many soldiers returned home from the war paralyzed from the

http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2698/Sport/article/detail/912484/2008/05/31/lsqu o Ik mis alleen twee benen meer niet rsquo.dhtml (22/4/2011) 11


waist down; they were called paraplegics (ibid). Due to the fact that the first wheelchairs were wooden and noncollapsible, those who used them could not have them transported (ibid:2). Without the ability to travel and move about, the disabled were not part of society (ibid). During the continuation of World War II, both disabled veterans and staff in hospitals were pioneering in the field of wheelchair sports (ibid: 7). Gyms in veterans’ hospitals grew active with wheels spinning across courts (ibid: 6). Then it spread to rehabilitation centers where disabled veterans were taking courses (ibid: 7). Everything went quite quickly, the establishment of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) took place in 1950. 3 Advancements in medicine and medical technology played an important role in the lives of people with disabilities. It was not until the 1950’s that rehabilitation centers began to spring up (Savitz 2006: 21). This era became a developmental stage in the history of the disabled. In 1957, the first National Wheelchair Games in America were a fact (Savitz 2006: 25). It was not long after this date that disability sport competition became international. The first summer Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960 immediately after the Olympic Games (Smith & Thomas 2007: 51). Since the 1960s there has been an increase in the number of athletes and countries represented (ibid). From 400 athletes participating in the 1960 Games, over 4000 EAD’s from 122 countries and all disability groupings competed in eighteen sports at the games in Sydney 2004 (Craft in Smith & Thomas: ibid). What is important to note, is that it was the International Organizations of Sports for the Disabled (IOSD's) and their predecessors that helped to organize the Paralympic Games and from 1960's to 1988 (Howe 2008: 500). As we will see later in the chapter on the complexity of competition, this leaves its mark on the disability sports up till now.

3

http://www.nwba.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid= 120 (11/4/2011) 12


Advancements in medicin and technology. Advancements in medicine played an important role in the lives of people with disabilities (Savitz 2006: 21). The fifties exploded with new breakthroughs that affected the live of the disabled (ibid). A second generation of antibiotics was discovered, and more lives were saved (ibid). The technology also helped the equipment of people with disabilities to become more mobile. This led to an increase in participation in sports for people with disabilities. Advancements in technology are at the core of recent debates according the inclusion of athletes with a disability in the Olympic Games. The case of Oscar Pistorius shows the difficulties. He was banned from the Olympic Games, because his artificial legs should give him an advantage which was unfair in contrast to normal legs. But an artificial hip, which can also prove significant advantage over a normal hip, or the genetic structure of African runners which makes them more suitable for long distance running, could than be questioned as well. The case of Pistorius shows the difficulty to determine who is an able bodied athlete, and who is a disabled body athlete (Hilvoorde & Landeweerd 2010: 2223). A sumo wrestler is a hero in Japan, but his physique that makes him a champion in his sports, might be seen as a handicap in daily life. Pistorius points at previous participation in the Olympic Games of disabled athletes with visual impairment, or with limbs missing. He thinks they are not the basis of a big discussion because they don't need accessories (ibid). He makes clear that the wheelchair is an accessory, maybe just like a stick. But the difference is that it's not used by all the contesters. Where technological advancement in the beginning of disability sports helped the disabled athletes to participate in sports at all, it seems that it might work against them today. Because what if the artificial legs of Pistorius would be less advanced than they are now? Would his achievement gain more recognition?

Media As we have seen in the chapter on the history of sport for people with a disability, 13


there has been a substantial growth in competitions (Smith & Thomas 2007: 51). One of the consequences of this development is the increase in the amount of media coverage afforded those athletes who compete (ibid). Both scholars and athletes themselves have taken a critical look at these representations in the media of EAD’s (i.e. Smith & Thomas 2007: Peers 2009). One of the most articulated critique is that of the “supercrip athlete” whose inspirational stories of courage, dedication, and hard work prove that it can be done, that one can defy the odds and accomplish the impossible (Berger 2008: 648). This critique can be linked to the influence of the International Paralympic Committee on the image constructed in the media. Besides this critique, there is another important aspect of media coverage of elite sports for the disabled, which particularly seems to bother the athletes themselves. The interest in elite sports as a sport pure and simple, and the athletes just as hardworking sportsmen, often seems to be obscured by the story behind the sportsman. The supercrip and the influence of the IPC Critics charge that the ‘supercrip’ media model and his or her story might foster unrealistic expectations about what people with disabilities can achieve, what they should be able to achieve, if only they tried hard enough (ibid). Kathi Wolfe, a blind journalist who often writes about disability issues, wrote that after the media coverage of the climbing of the Mouth Everest by Weihenmeijer, who is also blind, she was approached by well meaning people and asked when she, too, would climb Everest (Wolfe in Hardin & Harding 2001). If we hear enough such stories we may feel defeated by comparison (Ibid). According to critics, the supercrip mystique encourages the public to adopt “self made man” and “blaming the victim” ideologies (see Ryan 1971) that work against progressive social change (Smart in Berger 2008:648). This idea of the supercrip is closely linked to the ideas of stigma of Goffman (1963). According to Goffman, those individuals who most closely approximated normality would be the leaders and heroes of the stigmatized group (Goffman in 14


Lindeman & Cherney 2008: 121). This idea strengthens the supercrip critique mentions above. We can see the disabled athletes as heroes, but we can also look at them as disabled persons closer to normality. Howe (2008: 135) points to the influence of the IPC in the construction of the image of the Paralympic Games in the media . He shows that the the IPC determines how stories about the Paralympic Games should be reported (Howe 2008: 136). This leads to an almost exlusively positive reporting of the Paralympic Games. (ibid). According to Howe, this positive image is not necessarily a bad thing, but it avoids dealing with the organization of Paralympic sports (ibid 2008: 136). Without this insight in the organization of the Paralympic sports, it is hard to focus on the achievements, because that needs some understanding of the classification system. This idea of the supercrip itself is also problematized by Berger (2008). He interviewed thirteen people participating as athletes, or directed involved in a collegiate wheelchair program (ibid). He found that athletes themselves find media representations of other disabled athletes inspiring, believing the latter model an affirmative experience of disability for people with disabilities as well as the general public (ibid: 650). I do not want to question the inspiring aspect for the athletes themselves, but in the next section I want to focus on the second aspect; media representations as a way for the general public to positively portray the disabled athlete. I will argue that the way in which media represent the elite athlete with a disability, makes it hard for the general public to see the sports achievement in its own right, which ultimately seems to be the goal for the athletes themselves. The supercrip, the heroes, and the influence on the Paralympic Committee might not be the best way to respect the achievements of the disabled athletes. Human interest or sports section The interest for sports for EAD’s, even though there has been an increase, seems to have a hard time to reach out to the sports fans. Berger (2009: 139) notes that mainstream sports media such as ESPN do not seem to view wheelchair sports as having entertainment value comparable to billiard, poker, and hotdog eating 15


contests. Mike Lenser, an elite wheelchair basketball player, described wheelchair basketball as “kind of down on the food chain” as far as sports are concerned (Lenser in Berger 2009: 139).

“To be truthful, I’m not optimistic. Right now there’s so little publicity about it [and outside the bigger national and international tournament] the crowds at the games are usually pretty minimal, mainly familily and friends” (Lenser in Berger 2009: 139)

Eddy Crouch, playing for the USA quad rugby team in 200, would like to see quad rugby, for that matter all wheelchair sports, recognized as sports:

“The first step is recognizing quad rugby as sport. These guys are top athletes training fit to six days a week” (Elefteriou 2005: 105).

He talks about the local newspaper covering the success of winning the Gold medal where it belongs, in the Sports Section (ibid: 103). Erika Terpstra, a sports icon in the Netherlands, made the same statement in a documentary on sports for the disabled, recently broadcasted in the Netherlands (35 years of disability sports, broadcasted in the Netherlands in 2011). She also points to the fact that she saw one article, which was just about the sports achievement and not a story on human interest (ibid). And exactly this lack of media attention for the sports achievement is what is bothering the athletes. They do not want more attention, if it only means a "pat on the back" (Berger 2009: 139). They want legitimacy as real athletes, to be recognized for their accomplishments, perhaps even to get paid for them, and not be reduced to a stereotype the supercrip (Berger 2009: 139). Indeed, most articles on sports for the disabled focus on the human interest side of 16


the athletes. As Crouch states it:

"As if to say, 'here's an interesting story about a group of guys in wheelchairs" (Crouch in Berger 2009: 139)

Smith and Thomas (2005: 57) found that in British newspaper coverage of the Manchester Commonwealth Games, there was a tendency by the media to view the participation of disabled athletes as performing some form of ‘therapeutic’ or ‘rehabilitation’ role in their lives. They want legitimacy as real athletes, to be recognized for their accomplishments, perhaps even to get paid for them, and not be reduced to a stereotype the supercrip (Berger 2009: 139). In the documentary on the history of sports for the disabled in the Netherlands, it is mentioned that there are some companies and organizations that donate one percentage of their funds for sports to sports for people with a disability. It was said that it was a great gesture, and very important for sports for the disabled. But if disability sports want more recognition as real sports, I doubt if the athletes mentioned above would feel this the same way. The setting of the whole night as a fancy party, broadcasted on one of the commercial networks in the Netherlands on prime time, involved a lot of talking and not a lot of sports. This was a great opportunity to reach out for a broader audience and show them the disability sports in general and the life of the EAD’s as real sportsmen and –women. Mike Frogly, another elite wheelchair player, thinks that the sport has marketing potential, but that anyone who tries it will have to overcome the media and public mentality that treats wheelchair sports merely as human interest, as a story about supercrips perhaps, but not about legitimate athletes (Frogly in Hardin & Hardin 2001). Media coverage of elite sports for the disabled, often consists of articles published on the human interest page rather than on the sports page, which illustrates the fact that it is hard to see it as a sport an sich, and therefore achievements of the disabled athletes purely based on talent, skill and training. 17


The media plays an important role in the recognition of EAD’s as real athletes, because since there are not many spectators present at disabilty sports events, this is the main source of information on these athletes for most part of society. As long as the story of the supercrip remains, and fundraising keeps the feeling of charity, the acomplishments, talents, training, effort and skills of the EAD’s will continue to be overshadowed. Peers (2009: 662) argues for the telling of different stories, by the athletes themselves.

Stories that might not sell, and the stories that will be likely to be omitted from the history books – untilwe write our own [historybooks] (Peers 2009: 662)

The complexity of (elite) competition for PWD’s The competition for PWD’s is complex. In the chapter on the history, I shortly mentioned the development of the classification system. This classification system is constantly redevelopment and makes knowledge about this system necessary to completely understand the sports as a spectator. The classification system is also a topic of debate within the disability movement (Howe 2008). The stress on the quality of competition for the athletes versus the mainstreaming of disability sports at the side of the International Paralympic Committee seems to be hard to merge. Besides the difficulties with the classification system, there is another major difficulty for disability sports to gain recognition. The principle of inclusion for all, which has its roots in the historical development of sports for the disabled, seems to conflict with the principle of elite sports, where it is about standing out of the crowd. Classification Classification is simple structure for competition similar to the systems used in judo and boxing where competitors perform in distinctive weight categories (Howe 2008: 500). Still, in disability sports, it is proved to be much more complicated than that. Howe, drawing on ethnographic data collected as both an athlete and a journalist 18


within the Paralympic movement, undertakes a critical examination of the process of classification, and shows the debate around this processes from his position within the field as an athlete (ibid: 500). The basic goal of classification is to ensure that winning or losing an event depends on talent, training, skill, fitness, and motivation rather than unevenness among competitors on disability related variables (Sherill in Howe 2008: 503). The classification system has its foundation in a sporting world where disability specific classification was seen as the marker of an equitable system where sport was organized by the IOSD's to provide level playing ground. (Howe in Howe 2008: 504). As a result the classification system developed by the IOSD's often creates classes that at time make sporting contests meaningless to the extent that every participant could receive a medal (ibid). A key mechanism in the process of commercialization opf Paralympic sport is the modification of the system for classifying (Howe 2008: 138). The elimination of any discussion of classification withing media reports means that readers are left with little understanding about Paralympic sport (ibid: 138). Athletes versus the International Paralympic Comittee William Morgan's (in Howe 2008: 505) concept of ‘the practice community’ is useful here, as it provides a means for critiquing the control that institutions have over the practice of sports. According to Howe, the IPC should return the control of the practice of sport to the IOSDs. This act of revolution is needed if individual with impairments are to be empowered through the sport (Howe 2008: 505). But the IPC see this entirely different. A complex disability specific classification system made it initially difficult for the IPC to attract desired media attention toward Paralympic sport (Howe 2008: 505). Therefore, the IPC put constant pressure on the IOSD's to remove from the decisions about classification. (ibid). This resulted in another classification program. This "functional integrated classification system" reduced the number of classes participating so that it simplified the integration in the rest of the sports world (Steadword in Howe 2008: 505). It focuses on functionality rather than on disability (ibid). Even though this classification is integrated in some disciplines, 19


like swimming, the athletes themselves favored the disability specific classification (Howe 2008: 507). This results in a complicated competition, which is, according to Howe, logically. There were a total of 26 final 100m races at the 2000 Paralympic Games (ibid). Because of the dominance of the favor of the disability specific classification system within the disabled athletes, the IPC implemented a rule in 1992 that at least 6 competitors from 4 different countries should be in an event to make it viable to be held at the Games (ibid). This meant that many athletic events for the more severely impaired and for women have been cancelled in recent years (ibid). This has led to the moving of competitors to a less impaired class, where they are not competing on a level field and is unlikely to win (ibid: 508). Although winning is not central to Paralympics as formulated by the IPC, it is a major consideration for National Paralympic Committees or making team selections (ibid). Howe give us a useful insight into to difficulties of greater acknowledgement for sports for the disabled. While Howe argues, as an athlete himself, for the disability specific classification, the IPC seems to move into another direction in order to move the Paralympic closer to the "normal" sports world. The general tendency in the media and by spokespersons seem to strengthen the righteousness of the chosen path of the IPC. The Paralympic Games are gaining more and more media coverage. Howe shows us that this does not come without a cost. Athletes are being excluded, and he questions the fairness of competition.

Integration of disabled athletes in “normal " events There are a lot of examples of EAD’s participating in “normal” events. For example, in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Brian McKeever, a visually impaired Canadian, was the first winter sport athlete to compete in both the Paralympic and Olympic games (Unknown 2010: 190 1). He was determined to show there is not a large gap between able bodied and disabled athletes (ibid). By posing this statement, he acknowledged the fact that there is a need to proof them as equal. 20


He says he is hoping his story will make people realize that just because somebody has a disability does not mean they are not training hard or are extremely fit (ibid). Another example, which is mentioned earlier, is the case of Pistorius. His struggle for participation in the Olympics was unfruitful, because it is said that his artificial legs would give him an advantage over the competitors with normal legs. In the social science, this participation of EAD’s in normal events is seen as the achievement of the ultimate inclusion:

“Inclusion is the final stage of integration of people with disabilities in a sport competition or organizing… Inclusion implies that people with disabilities are able to compete in integrated settings without stigma or the fear of having their identity spoiled or their status or interaction adversely affected by their impairment or disability or perceptions of them” (Nixon 2007: 419)

It is obviously from these statement that Nixon argues for inclusion of people with a disability in able bodied sports. According to Nixon, the disability rights movement, in its quest against social segregation, pressured mainstream society to provide reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities could participate more fully in the mainstream, and this movement also included a push for more rights and opportunities in sport (Silvers & Wasserman in Nixon 2007). Nixon argues for participating of EAD’s in mainstream sports, as a way of participating more in the mainstream. At first sight this argument seems valid. But if we apply this argument to other marginalized groups in sports, it seems to be a bit different. Recently, women soccer has been the topic of interest in Dutch media. The continuity of the highest women division is uncertain due the withdrawal of several teams. Soccer in the Netherlands is a “men’s world”. But if anyone would argue, like Nixon, that inclusion in the normal soccer world, together with the men, would be 21


the ultimate goal, I doubt they will find any support. But if you argue for the legitimacy of women’s soccer as a sport in its own right, like Vera Pauw, the pioneer in women’s soccer in the Netherlands, did in one of the biggest newspapers in the Netherlands, people might be listening 4 . The answer to the question whether there are women participating in men’s teams, she answers:

“It happens sometimes. But I made it very clear, that it doesn’t help our sport if we see it as the ultimate goal to participate with the men. I want to fight for the recognition of soccer for women” (Vera Pauw in de Volkskrant 2007).

I think the same argument would be applyable to elite sports for people with a disability. It does not help the sport as a whole to gain more recognition include a select few in able bodied sport. That does not mean that some EAD’s are able to participate in mainstream sport events, and gain personal respect for their achievement. But if the participation in mainstream sports become the ultimate goal, like Nixon argues, then it would necessarily work against recognition of disabled sports as sports in their own right. In addition, the inclusion of some athletes with a disability into able bodied sports necessarily means the exclusion of other athletes with a(nother) disability. Smith and Thomas examined some of the complex issues surrounding the inclusion of EAD’s in the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester, which was the first major international multi sport event to include EAD’s in its main sports program (Smith and Thomas 2005: 49). One of the consequences, which they call unintended, is the fact that by including some athletes, not all athletes could be ‘included’ in the

4

http://www.vkbanen.nl/banen/artikel/Voetbalcoach Vera Pauw ik vecht er niet

meer tegen/105789.html (last entered 4/4/2011) 22


Games (ibid: 64). They view these two effects, of including some athletes with a disability, but excluding others, as two co occurring processes (ibid). The inclusion of some athletes with a disability into able bodied events, will necessarily lead to the exlusion of other athletes. In the case of the Commonwealth Games, it showed that those athletes with what might be considered as more severe disabilities were largely excluded (consiously and otherwise) from the programme (Smith & Thomas 2005: 63). Again, I do not oppose the participation of a limited number of athletes participating, but by including large number of EAD’s in an event, like the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, will have a devaluating effect on achievements of EAD’s in events that are exclusively for EAD’s. Paralympics versus Olympics According to sports filosopher and movement scientist Ivo van Hilvoorde, the participation of Pistorius in the Olympic Games would be a mistake, a symphatetice maybe, but a mistake 5 . Pistorius practices a different sport, he masters another skill; namely running very fast on artificial legs. According to van Hilvoorde, the danger of Pistorius' battle to participate in the Olympics is the Olympic Games becoming the ultimate goal for the disabled athletes, which would be a devaluation of the Paralympic Games. I agree with van Hilvoorde, and argue for the possibility to stretch this devaluation of the Paralympic Games as symbolizing the devaluation of the disabled body. If the Olympic Games are going to be the ultimate goal, even for disabled sporters, and the reality is that the majority of the disabled sportsmen and women will never be able to realize this, the achievements of the disabled athletes will never be the same achievement in a different kind of sports; it will be a less worth achievement in a less worth sports event. Elite sports or inclusion for all? As noted in the paragraph on the history of sports for the disabled, the ISOD's helped the realization of the Paralympic Games (Howe 2008: 504).The charitable ethos of 5

Kunstbenen op spelen ‘circusachtig’. http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2844/Archief/ article/detail/918354/2008/05/22/Kunstbenen op Spelen lsquo circusachtig 23


the IOSD's led the Paralympic Movement to celebrate participation over performance, and as such is still a central component of the habitus of elite sport for the disabled (ibid). As Howe notes, the classification, based on an inclusion for all principle, supported by the IOSD's, is considered incompatible with high performance by most within the International Paralympic Committee (Howe and Jones in Howe 2008: 505). The fact that every participant could receive a medal is also incompatible with the ideas in mainstream society what elite sport is all about. As mentioned in the introduction, according to Nixon (in Berger 2008: 650), the interest of disabled athletes to compete in elite sports is best accommodated by developing a continuum of options from uncompetitive recreational sports to highly competitive elite sports. This is the approach taken in able bodied sports and there is little reason to expect or desire disabled athletes to forego comparable opportunities to excel (Berger 2008: 651). But he general view in society on disability provided by Hilvoorde (2010), show how this approach might not be as easily accepted by society as Berger thinks. The general view on disability is focused on "sameness", on providing equal opportunities for people with a disability (Van Hilvoorde 2010: 2226). This "sameness" conflicts with the ideas about elite sports: which is all about standing out of the crowd and about abnormal talents and body shapes (ibid).

Integration of able bodied players (reverse integration) So far, I have only talked about the inclusion of EAD’s in normal sports, and not the other way around. I argued that the large scale inclusion of EAD’s in normal events would lead to a devaluation of the events that are exclusively attended by athletes with a disability. A less well known phenomenon, the integration of able bodied players in sports for people with a disability, is worth looking into. In Canada, it is neither uncommon nor against the rules for able bodied athletes to participate in wheelchairs sports (Medland & Ellis Hill 2008:108). This development might be a way rsquo.dhtml (6/4/2011) 24


for sport for people with a disability to gain more recognition, without participation in the able bodied sports as the ultimate goal. This fact is acknowledged by Berger:

"For wheelchair basketball to expand and achieve greater recognition as a legitimate sport, it will need to open up eligibility to able bodied players, as has been done in Canada, where the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association allows able bodied people to play in Canadian competitions. (Berger 2009: 140)

The first report of able bodied persons competing in wheelchair races posed the question: ‘Why?’ (Medland & Ellis Hill 2008: 108). This question highlights the relative value placed on wheelchair sports – why would somebody want to take part in wheelchair sports when they could take part in (what would be cinsidered in wider society as more valued) usual sports? (ibid: 108). Besides from negative reasons, which stem from a medical model of disability of disabled people as weak, pathetic and in need of sympathy (Brisenden in Medland and Ellis Hill 2008: 108), there could be other reasons, more constructive in understanding this question. Medland and Ellis Hill conducted a study where they asked eleven wheelchair athletes and nine able bodied wheelchair athletes about their ideas about able bodied athletes participating in wheelchair sports (Ibid: 110). The findings of this study show that able bodied people initially become involved in wheelchair sports through disabled friends and family (ibid: 115). Their reasons for continuing are mixed and varying (ibid: 116), so they need further research. What is more interesting besides the reasons for participating, are the ways in which the participants felt that these reverse integration could be beneficial for more recognition and a wider audience for sports for the disabled. Even though there was no consensus on the phenomenon, more than half of the participants felt that the inclusion of able bodied athletes would move the media’s focus from 25


human interest stories and so help with marketing and sponsorship that focuses on the sport an sich, rather than on the human interest story(ibid: 114). What is a bit paradoxical about this study, is the fact that all the participants recognized that within society wheelchair sports have a lower status than other sports and that is seen as not being very competitive and as being only ‘meant for weak people’ (ibid: 113). This would explain the fact that they think that the inclusion of able bodied athletes will change the status of wheelchair sports in society. Reverse integration could be a way of improving the status of disability sports in society, according to participants, both able bodied and disabled athletes. Where the inclusion of EAD’s in normal events risks the inclusion of some, and the exclusion of many, reverse integration seems to have a huge advancement over the former. Even though the paradoxical logic behind this improvement, the need of able bodied players to gain status as a disability sports, it seems to improve the status of disability sports as a whole.

Seeing is believing – disability sports in its own right So far I have talked about the difficulties the (elite) sports for the disabled are facing when struggling for recognition. In this last chapter, I want to discuss some examples to support the view that disability sports, and elite sports especially, should not settle for inclusion for some athletes in normal events, or should settle for a lesser status than mainstream sports, but should raise the bar even higher and make sure everybody is watching. Berger recalls a special moment when watching a game of wheelchair basketbal.

"For a moment, those of us sitting in the stands forgot we were watching a game of wheelchair basketball. It was basketball pure and simple. No stigma or pity often associated with people in wheelchairs, those who are part of the broad category of people now commonly know as people "with disabilities"(Berger 2009: 3) 26


When I worked as a volunteer at an international quad rugby tournament, part of the job consisted of picking the teams (and their equipment) up at the Amsterdam airport. The athletes came out of the gate, pushing their sports chairs. The chairs of the defenders called amazement. You could see people thinking: “what did they do to those chairs on the plain?.” I found myself staring at the Swedish National Quad Rugby team. The sight of dozens of wheelchairs alone was impressive, let alone for the muscled guys in the chair pushing their own chairs. A rookie in the game of wheelchair rugby myself, I could not wait to see them in action. When I walked into the large indoor sport complex in the South of Amsterdam, I could already hear the chairs smashing into each other. I took a seat in the front row, because there was plenty of space. I was surprised by the view; considering myself a diverse sports fan, this was something I had never seen before; I was just as surprised as Berger to be captured by the game so quickly. The next day, I took a couple of my friends to watch the final, each of them as excited as I was. The claim of the athletes themselves, mentioned in the paragraph about the media representing them mainly as a human interest story, to be recognized as real athletes, is something that can be achieved through a better understanding with the general public of sports for people with a disability. As Frogley, a wheelchair athlete himself, explains:

“The key will be … getting people to see these guys as athletes, projecting an aimage of what a wheelchair athlete looks like, getting people to recognize players of differing ability, just as they do in able bodied sports. So they can say, wow, Melvin Juette is a phenomenal athlete. He’s just spectacular. Or Dan Ferreira. He’s pretty good. He can play with some of the better players, but he’s not one of them. He just does’n have the athleticism” (Frogley in Berger 2009: 140)

27


As mentioned earlier in this thesis, athletes themselves do not necessarily see their handicap as limited. This does not mean that they want to be included into normal sports, as we have seen what the difficulties are with including some and . They should better fight for acknowledgement in their own sports, which, I would argue, does have legitimacy in sports as its own right.

Conclusion In both social science and in the disability movement itself, elite sport for people with a disability is seen as a site for empowerment, inclusion and integration. The International Paralympic Committee adapts this ideas as their main aims. But I have shown, by making use of Peers, that this explicit ideology of empowerment relies on an implicit ideology of the disabled person as weak or frail. There are a lot of benefits for persons with a disability who practise sports. But most of them are the same as for able bodied athletes. The explicitely mentioning of these goals risk the fact of being seen as some therapeutic, or revalidation process for athletes with a disability. This might not be that surprising as we know the history of sports for people with a disability. It has its foundations during the second World War, as part of the revalidation program, and quickly developed into a range of possibilities, from revalidation and recreation to elite sports. The advancement in technology and medicin played an important part in the life of people with a disability. These advancement made the participation in sports more accessible. The case of Pistorius, who’s artificial legs could potentially help him participate in the Olympic Games, is an example of the difficulties which are surrounding the concepts of a disabled or an abled body. The media playes an important role in the image of the disabled athlete in mainstream society, since the crowds at the games are usually small. The often heard critique of the supercrip provides society with unrealistic expectations of disabled athletes. The influence of the International Paralympic Committee on the stories told about Paralympic athletes accounts for the lack of information on the 28


organization of the Paralympic Games, while this insight in necessary for the understanding and interpretation of (elite) sports for people with a disability. The media coverage of elite sports for PWD’s is mostly found in the human interest section. But the athletes themselves want recognition as real athletes, not another story about a group of guys in a wheelchair. This recognition of sports for people with a disability is made even harder by the complexity of competition. The classification system, which is a major issue inside the disability community, is complex and the topic of an evergoing debate. Where the International Paralympic Committee wants to draw more attention to the competition, the IOSD’s and the athletes themselves want a fair playing ground. The implementation of the functional integrated classification system by the IPC brings disability sports closer to normal sports, but does not account for a fair competition. The inclusion of elite athletes with a disability can be seen as the ultimate achievement of inclusion and integration of people with a disability, and is often agreed to by sociologist and athletes themselves. But this inclusion of some athletes nessecarily means an exclusion of other, often more impaired, disabled athletes. It also devaluates the Paralympic Games and other sports event for people with a disability, if the able bodied events become the highest goal. Both the IPC and society struggles with ‘the inclusion for all principle’ towards people with a disability, and the ideas about elite sports, which is all about abnormalcy and standing out from the crowd. The general view towards people with a disability is based on the principle of ‘sameness’, on providing equal opportunities. The ideas about elite sports are hard to merge with this general view on disability, which makes the recogition of elite sports for people with a disability even harder. Reverse integration might be another way to gain more recognition in society. In Canada it is not uncommon for able bodied people to join wheelchair sports. The disability community is divided in their opinion about this phenomenon. Still, more than half of the participants, both abled and disabled wheelchair athletes, thought that integration of able bodied players might improve the status of the 29


sport. All the participants agreed on the lower status of wheelchair sports in comparison to other sports. Where the inclusion of disabled athletes in normal events can lead to the exclusion of some, the reverse integration does not have this effect, which might be a good starting point to explore this way of gaining more recognition for sports for the disabled. Ultimitately it still comes down to watching a game. Seeing is believing. No stigma, heroism, pity or supercrip. No rehabilitation or therapeutic practices. Two teams, a limited amount of time, one winner and one looser. It can be as simple as that.

30


Bibliography Berger, Ronald J 2009 Hoop dreams on wheels. Disability and the competitive wheelchair athlete. New York: Routledge Berger, Ronald J 2008 Disability and the dedicated wheelchair athlete: beyond the “supercrip” critique. Journal of contemporary ethnography: 37: 647 678 Eleftheriou, Ted 2005 Squashing stereotypes. Parks and recreation: september: 102 107 Gold, John R & Gold, Margaret M 2007 Acces for all: the rise of the paralympic games. The journal of the royal society for the promotion of health: 127: 133 141 Hardin & Hardin 2001 The ‘Supercrip in sport media: wheelchair athletes discuss hegemony’s disabled hero. Hilvoorde & Landeweerd 2010 Enhancing disabilities: transhumanism under the veil of inclusion? Disability and rehabilitation 32 (26): 2222 2227 Howe, P. D. 2008 From inside the newsroom: Paralympic Media and the ‘Production’ of Elite Disability. International Review for the Sociology of Sport : 43: 135 150 Howe, David 2008 The tail is wagging the dog: Body culture, classifiction and the Paralympic movement. Ethnograpgy 9: 499 517 Lindemann, Kurt & Cherney, James 2008 Communicating in and through “Murderball”: Masculinity and isability in wheelchair rugby. Western journal of communication: 72 (2): 107 125 Medland & Hill 2008 Why do able bodied people take part in wheelchair sports? Disability & 31


Society: 23 (2): 107 116 Nixon II, Howard L. 2007 Constructing diverse sports opportunities for people with disabilities. Journal of sport and social issues 31: 417 433 Peers, Danielle 2009 (Dis)empowering Paralympic histories: absent athletes and disabling discourses. Disability & society: 24 (5): 653 665 Savitz, Harriet May 2006 [1978] Wheelchair champions. A history of wheelchair sports. Lincoln: iUniverse, Inc Smith & Thomas 2005 The inclusion of elite athletes with disabilities in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games: an exploratory analysis of British newspaper coverage. Sport, Education and Society: 10 (1): 49 67 Tyrell et all. 2010 Exercise as stigma management for individuals with onset controllable and onset uncoontrollable spinal cord injury. Rehabilitation Psychology: 55 (4): 383 390 Unknown 2010 Skier first to be named to Olympic and Paralympic teams. Journal of visual impairment and blindness:; 104(3): 190 1 Websites Van Driel, Mark 2008 Ik mis alleen twee benen, meer niet http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2698/Sport/article/detail/912484/2008/05/3 1/lsquo Ik mis alleen twee benen meer niet rsquo.dhtml (10/5/2011) Van Driel, Mark 2008 Kunstbenen op Spelen ‘circusachtig’ http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2844/Archief/article/detail/918354/2008/05 32


/22/Kunstbenen op Spelen lsquo circusachtig rsquo.dhtml Davies, Gareth A 2010 London 2012 Paralympics: Channel 4 makes disability sport its main event http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/olympics/7934650/London 2012 Paralympics Channel 4 makes disability sport its main event.html (3/4/2011) Stan Labanowich &Thiboutot History of Wheelchair Basketbal http://www.nwba.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13 &Itemid=120 (11/4/2011) Anoniem Homepage of the United States Assocition of Blind Athletes http://www.usaba.org/Pages/sportsinformation/paralympics.html (5/2/2011) Anoniem Ik vecht er niet meer tegen http://www.vkbanen.nl/banen/artikel/Voetbalcoach Vera Pauw ik vecht er niet meer tegen/105789.html (last entered 4/4/2011)

Other March 2011 Television show: 35 Years of Disability sports. Length: 39 minutes. Broadcasted by RTL 5

33


The history of sport for the disabled