Okay, so there’ve been pages now written on how great the Paralympics were in #London2012. But to give praise where it is undoubtedly due, it was probably Beijing that first raised the bar and the status of the Paralympic games to, if not equal status, then a great deal closer to the Olympics than at any time before.
London’s achievement was to repackage and reengineer it as a product, not least by giving it the time and public attention that the efforts of those Paralympians deserved. Yet there’s some evidence that the global media interest was patchy.
I watched both the Olympic opening ceremony and the closing ceremony of the Paralympics with the US dominated Google Plus social network (rather than the more universal Twitter) open, and there was virtually no one talking about it…
The reason? There was virtually no coverage of the Paralympics in the US. NBC who had both contracts (and who creamed a record 214 million viewers for the Olympics) virtually pulled out for the Paralympics. The BBC reports:
NBC did not show any live action and its 90-minute round-up programme will not be broadcast until 16 September. Yet the broadcaster said the total of five-and-a-half hours represented an improvement on the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, when viewers got a single 90-minute highlights package.
But the US media’s no show has brought an interesting response from IPC President, Sir Philip Craven:
We’ll examine their values as they will examine ours. If the values fit, we’ve got a chance. If they don’t we’ll go somewhere else.The people of the USA, for example, particularly the parents and families of the athletes, they are all ready for Paralympic sport.
Take the plunge, take the risk and then you’ll succeed. [emphasis added]
US sports journalist Jim Ferstle:
It isn’t a priority, they don’t get the funding, they don’t get the attention and they aren’t sold the same way the Olympics are,” he says.
They have training centres and training programmes all over the country for able-bodied athletes but they don’t have those for Paralympians.
They pop up now and then, but it’s seen as these people are being helped out with their disability – they’re not being trained to be athletes.
It’s a case of the rest of the world changing their view of disability, and the US falling behind. At a time when in London veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan featured prominently in the games but also in the opening and closing ceremony you have to wonder who in the States would take up the mantle so well worn by Channel 4 in the UK for Rio?
Is there opportunity here for one of the smaller networks like Fox News, which like Channel 4 ordinarily does not ‘do’ live sport, to begin redefining itself in the public imagination by taking on Phillip Craven’s confident challenge for someone in the US to be bold and ‘take the risk’ with Rio 2016?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty