Q&A

What Would the Paralympics Look Like in an Optimistic Setting?

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In the real world Paralympic sports are underfunded compared to traditional athletic sports. In a more optimistic setting with better accessibility for athletes & racers what kind of people might we have being team representatives & competitors?

— Bryan

Bryan,

Thanks for the question! I’m not someone who knows a lot about sports, but your question connects to the broader idea of what a more optimistic and accessible setting would be like, and that is something that I can speak to.

Like many things in our culture, sports are something that takes resources to participate in, especially for top athletes. These resources include time, equipment, and the ability to travel. A key aspect of better funding is that it would allow more people to have access to the resources needed to participate. This means more participants and better inclusion of people with other marginalized identities, such as people of color.

Another thing worth talking about is that the current state of accessibility is more inclusive of people with some disabilities and less inclusive of others. One of these areas of less accessibility that I want to highlight are disabilities that are strongly affected by the behavior of others. For example, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a condition where people experience flu-like symptoms when exposed to even low concentrations of certain chemicals. Petrochemical fragrances tend to be a big problem for people with MCS, and petrochemical fragrances are in a lot of things that most people use every day, like laundry detergent, hand soap, shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen. This means that being in a crowd can take a huge toll on people with MCS. While there are carbon filter masks that people can wear, they make it harder to breathe and muffle voices, which isn’t an option for athletes or performers. Creating accessibility for participants with MCS at any live event means shifting community norms around fragrance and grooming product use, as well as creating institutional changes at event spaces to stop the use of fragrance dispensers, scented hand soap, and scented trash bags.

Finally, given that the Paralympics is a sporting event, I want to recognize that it is inherently going to be more inclusive of some disabilities than others. For example, any condition that has frequent, unpredictable flare-ups or that causes pain and fatigue are going to limit people’s ability to participate in a way that other conditions don’t. There may be ways to be more inclusive of people with these conditions, such as having more flexible timing options, but, personally, I’d also love for folks to do more to push the boundaries of what a sport is. People have suggested adding chess as an Olympic event, and I’d love to see that happen for both the Olympics and Paralympics. However, that idea isn’t for everyone, and that is okay too.

I hope that this gives you some helpful ideas and good places to start in your exploration of this topic.

Good luck with your project,

— Fay from Writing Alchemy

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    Just spitballing here…

    Maybe there’s just the Olympics, not two different events. In some sports, there are special classes for people with disabilities, like classes for blind people or swimming classes for people who’ve lost limbs, but these special classes are seen as on par with, e.g., weight classes that we currently have in many sports, or men’s and women’s classes. (Short aside: I think the latter division, at least how it’s named, is problematic from a trans perspective, since it leads to constant debates about whether trans people are “really” this or that gender and so belongs in this or that class in sports. In sports where high testo gives lots of advantage, which in fairness does seem to include lots of sports, you could have classes based on testo levels. You might think of other classes too that more directly capture what we think of as “male advantage”, without being called “men’s class”.)
    Other sports traditionally reserved for the Paralympics could just be open to everyone, there wouldn’t even be classes dividing disabled and abled-bodied athletes. Like wheelchair racing on different distances. It could be open for everyone, regardless of whether they can walk or not. Same thing might go for, say, what is currently the Paralympics skiing events for paraplegics. Skiing where you sit down in this little sleigh thing that has a ski underneath (sorry, don’t know the proper terminology here) could simply be its own sport, distinct from skiing on traditional skis – perhaps some able-bodied people simply prefer this style of skiing, in which case they’re free to compete in it.

    • Cay Reet

      Classes based on testosterone level would also do away with the need for some female athletes (usually WOC) to take testosterone-dampening meds, so they are recognized as ‘female athletes’ at all.

  2. Bryan

    So do you think an airtight potion bottle would work for an event with MCS participants? I was originally picturing the setting as mythic fantasy, but decided to write it as a (generally) optimisic setting instead.

    • Grey

      A mythic fantasy setting would be less likely to have petrochemicals as a common occurrence.

      • Bellis

        Yes, but all-natural essential oils can also set off MCS, and so could potions or alchemical concoctions depending on how you do your worldbuilding. There are definitely opportunities to make it either very rare or more common for these types of chemicals to be around depending on the story.

  3. Lorenzo Gatti

    Sports for disabled people can be as spectacular as regular ones, often with insignificant differences (e.g. sitting archery), sometimes with better performances than the regular variants (e.g. Oscar Pistorius), and in some instances with novel features (e.g. wheelchair basketball).

    But unfortunately (well, fortunately), regardless of accessibility and good intent, disabled people are a small minority: at best, sports for disabled people can only be as unimportant as out of fashion or extreme niche sports with few practitioners.

    This difficulty could be overcome in fiction with rather implausible social pressures and traditions (why would disabled people have a much greater interest in sports than everyone else?) or with an abnormally large number of disabled people (but in such a post-apocalyptic setup it’s hard to justify leisure activities and “optimism”).

    • Dave L

      Completely agree w/ the first paragraph

      But as for rarity…

      The average height in the NBA is 6’7″

      Fewer than one in 1000 men reach that height. About 2 million worldwide. And that is height alone, ignoring athletic ability

      Yes, there are players shorter than 6’7″ but they need a high level of skill to compensate

      There are more than 2.7 million wheelchair users in the US alone. Again, I’m otherwise ignoring athletic ability and just counting wheelchair users; I am ignoring other types of disability. I am also ignoring degree of disability

      But assuming the optimistic world is comparable to our own there should be enough athletes

      Or to put it another way, there are roughly 450 players in the NBA, almost 1700 in the NFL, and a little of 1000 in the MLB

      You only need one person out of (2700 to 5400) to have enough players for a full league

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: I’ve removed a comment primarily because this debate over whether there are “enough” disabled people for the Paralympic games has no purpose other than erasure. I’m leaving the original comment because it had some other points to make, but further arguments in this vein are not acceptable.

      Secondarily, the term “wheelchair bound” is in itself ableist. A wheelchair increases one’s mobility. It is a useful tool, not a prison. It’s easy to lose track of disability terminology, but “wheelchair user” is the correct term.

  4. Bellis

    Depending on what aspects of society your story touches on, you might also consider how mega-events are organised from a city-planning and social security standpoint: Will cities that host the olympics tear down low-income neighbourhoods (possibly impacting a disproportunate amount of disabled people) or build more accessible public transport? Will funds be funnelled away from disability benefits into the pockets of ablebodied investors for the mega event? Will there be efforts to show the city in a particular light and will those efforts be problematic (like driving out homeless people without giving them alternatives)? Or will quality of life for everyday folks rise? Will it have a beneficial, negative or neutral effect (or none) on non-athletes who are disabled? Will it change public perception and if so, how and for how long?

  5. Maria

    There is an ongoing debate on abuse in sports (especially in those disciplines that requires atlethes to start intensive training from a very young age), so maybe that could also be an aspect to keep in mind.

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