The Olympic Ideal?

By Molineux, Matthew | British Journal of Occupational Therapy, February 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Olympic Ideal?


Molineux, Matthew, British Journal of Occupational Therapy


As I watched the opening ceremony of the recent Beijing Paralympic Games, the occupational therapist in me felt somewhat unsettled. Although I enjoyed the ceremony, I kept asking why those games were treated differently to the Olympic Games. Television was essentially taken over during the Olympics, yet the Paralympics received only sporadic coverage. Both events are a competition between elite athletes, yet one is called the Olympics and the other the Paralympics. The medal tallies for recent games show that the Team GB medal haul at the Paralympics dwarfs that at the Olympics, yet I suspect the two teams have different experiences as they step off the plane on their return home.

To what extent does this situation, one in which discrimination on the basis of difference is institutionalised and accepted internationally, reflect the spirit of the Olympic Movement? Apparently, 'every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind' and 'any form of discrimination ... is incompatible' with the Olympic Movement (International Olympic Committee 2007, p11). The segregation of able-bodied and disabled athletes, therefore, seems contradictory to the principles of Olympism. Perhaps it is done to 'protect' disabled athletes or, with disabled athletes reaping the medals, maybe it protects the egos of able-bodied athletes. Perhaps it is a remnant of a bygone age that now needs to be questioned, or perhaps it has real value to disabled athletes.

It is not easy to ignore the fact that London will host the 2012 Olympics--and do not forget the Paralympics. I suspect, however, that most occupational therapists have not considered the opportunities presented by the invasion of London by elite athletes, coaches, media and spectators from around the world.

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