Disabling apathy

Having hosted a successful Olympic Games in August, Greece felt it had lived up to a series of challenges, not only those deriving from the demands of staging a mega-sized sporting event, from the signs of tardiness and corruption, but also those stemming from bad publicity in the international news media, which were often keen to spout misinformation. As the curtain has fallen on the Games, which were hailed as a success, people are naturally overwhelmed by a sense of relief after having pulled off a major gamble. Only a minority sees the Paralympics, which began yesterday, as a continuation of the celebration and the challenge. Most people have no clue about the athletes and their sports, mainly because the competitions for disabled athletes barely make the headlines. The Paralympics have always received scant media attention and television coverage. Nevertheless, we ought to give our full attention and support to these Games. To be sure, critics rightly point out that the Paralympics are only a hypocritical alibi for claiming that disabled persons get the respect they deserve. And it is true that on the long list of these people’s unfulfilled rights, sportsmanship is hardly among the top priorities. However, for those who participate, for those who find the strength to overcome the limits of illness or accident, this international sporting event, a gathering of 4,000 athletes from 143 countries, is a form of vindication. Most importantly, in the eyes of other physically disabled people throughout the globe, these strivers convey a message of optimism and hope. If the joy of participation is really what sport is all about, if we are meant to applaud performance without the anticipation of gold medals or world records, then the Paralympics will offer us a unique opportunity to do so. Unlike the August Games, the Paralympics will not take place during the summer lull, making it harder for the residents of the capital to attend the various competitions. However, to the degree that it is possible, we should all try to be there – to pay tribute to these individuals’ true fighting spirit and to show our humanist culture. These Games could also be a lesson for us on how to treat physically challenged fellow human beings who are striving to participate in something greater than the Games: a role in everyday life. For them, this is an ordeal in which they receive little practical help and understanding.

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