It’s Time to Cover More Disability Sport
The Paralympics always spark extensive conversations about how inspirational para-athletes are, admiring their incredible abilities and achievements, many in the face of adversity, but why do we only give disability sport the front pages (or any pages at all) once every two years?
The Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics broke all television viewing records with, according to Nielsen Sports figures, the global cumulative TV audience experiencing a 7 per cent increase on the 3.8 billion people that watched the coverage of the London 2012 games. Furthermore, the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympics surpassed all international broadcast and online viewing records with more broadcasters and viewers from outside of the host country than ever before. With television coverage in more than 100 territories and a cumulative audience of over 2 billion people, PyeongChang 2018 also reached an additional 251.5 million people through their coverage on the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) social media channels. These statistics alone refute any arguments that there is not a sizable global television audience who would wish to see greater coverage of parasports.
Following on from the unprecedented Paralympic coverage by Channel 4 during the London 2012 Summer Games, the UK has been the leading nation for championing parasport, and yet coverage is still far from good enough. Lord Sebastian Coe, former Olympian and current president of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), has continuously spoken of the legacy of the London Paralympics, but what about the support for parasport when it's not on the world’s biggest stage and preceding a fortnight of action from the able-bodied superstars?
The integration of able-bodied sporting events with disability sport, as seen at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with the Gold Coast hosting the most inclusive sporting event held to date, is one way to boost the profile of parasport. The medals table was a combination of able-bodied and para results. There was a 73% increase in athletes competing with a disability in comparison to the previous Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and parasport was greeted by the same packed out venues as able-bodied disciplines. Alas, it should not be commonplace to believe that parasport needs the draw of non-disabled athletes to sell seats.
In terms of UK broadcasting, it would also be highly beneficial and refreshing to see Channel 4’s political satire show ‘The Last Leg’ championing parasport across all series, as opposed to only during those which coincide with a Paralympic Games - after all, the show was initially created to run alongside the main coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics, raising the profile of para-athletes with each episode.
This summer saw substantial coverage of the European Championships streamed across BBC One, Two and the BBC iPlayer, while the Para European Championships failed to obtain mainstream coverage. Meanwhile, despite Great Britain being home to Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, two of the most successful wheelchair tennis players of all time, coverage of their Grand Slam matches is often dropped in favour of ‘studio chat’ about the able-bodied players. The argument that parasport lacks ‘big’ names is also flawed; the media have failed to create the platform for these names. It should not take a stint on Strictly Come Dancing (or any equivalent reality show) to make a para-athlete such as Jonnie Peacock or Lauren Steadman a household name.
You can find an up-to-date list of upcoming disability sport fixtures here.