Earlier this week, the Paralympics opening ceremony kicked off the start of the Games – but were you aware? Have you since watched any of the competitions on TV? Or perhaps you’ve read about them? Probably not. Despite the major achievements that take place at the Paralympic Games every four years, I still feel like they are regarded like the Olympics little sister. Whether it’s the media coverage or the long-term success of the athletes, the world does not put the two games at the same level. Thanks to Covid, I also think that this year’s Paralympic Games have faced even more erasure than they usually would. As a nation that still has a way to go in terms of disability acceptance, the Paralympics is a great way to showcase our disabled community and to get away from our negative and stereotypical thinking.
As a child growing up with a disability, the Paralympics meant a lot to me. I used to enjoy sports and was a very sporty child, and so the Paralympics were a time where I felt I could finally see athletes like myself and felt truly represented. Even though I’ve since become less sporty, the Paralympics still hold a special place in my heart. It’s a time where the global disabled community comes together and shows its strength to the world. Disabled athletes gather from all corners despite the stigma that is so often attached to their identity. But it’s always made me sad the way the Paralympics remain in the shadows of the Olympics and don’t get the same spotlight and first-class treatment.
Although the pandemic has greatly affected this year’s competitions, you can’t deny the stark difference between the media coverage that the two games have received. Around the world, the Olympics are treated with great honour and respect whereas the Paralympics often seem to be an afterthought. In a society that already belittles and disadvantages the disabled, this cannot be the way we uplift the community when they deserve to have the spotlight on them.
However, I take comfort in the fact that Nigeria performs so well in the Paralympic Games year after year. Despite the stigma attached to disability in our society, our paralympians have repeatedly outshined our Olympians on the medal table. As a disabled woman myself, I feel like this shows the public that there is more to disability than its limitations. Our paralympians have brought pride to the country, bringing multiple medals home, including several gold. At the time of writing, we’ve also already won our first medal during the first day of competitions. For a country that still holds some reductive opinions about disability, seeing our repeated success at the Paralympics has been of great importance to me. But our great achievements in these games still result in weak coverage and recognition. And it’s not just a Nigeria problem, but a global issue.
Those with disabilities deserve equal media coverage and recognition from spectators. Disabled athletes are just as inspirational as able-bodied athletes and they work just as hard to get to where they are today. We also need to focus more on the athletes themselves, their skills, and their career more so than their disability. Yes, the disability is what makes them a paralympian, but the sole narrative of their media coverage should not be about that one part of their identity. Paralympians can also be looked at through several different lenses. While they have overcome adversity, there is more to disabled people than their disability.
Paralympic sports have developed greatly over the years, but there is still a way to go. While efforts need to be made by official Olympic and Paralympic governing bodies, we the media also have a great part to play. We have the power to shape public perception about disability and the games themselves. From broadcasting, radio, writing and social media, we actually have no excuse to not be able to platform our athletes and their success stories. For a country that can boast so many Paralympic medals, we must, should and can do better. It’ll only do the world some good. For me, the games are a way for the disabled community to show that they are not bound by their limitations that the world prescribes onto them. We are fearless, capable and strong. We too can do anything we set our minds to.