On the day the Paralympics begin, I’m looking forward to ten days of excellent competition and sport. One of the things that brings me particular pleasure is the return to the Paralympic Games for athletes with learning disabilities. These athletes were involved in the Paralympic Games for the first time in 1996 only to be barred en masse in 2000 after a Spanish Basketball team were found to be cheating by entering athletes to compete who did not have learning disabilities.
The Paralympic movement felt that eligibility requirements for learning disabilities should be re-examined, at the cost of those athletes who did compete and work fairly through the process. It seems oddly perverse when those who did not cheat are punished more heavily by being removed from the competition than those who did.
And now, after 12 years of exclusion, the 2012 games will see the return of some top class athletes with learning disabilities although the return is limited at this point with competitors taking part only in athletics, table tennis and swimming.
One of the things to get used to with the Paralympics, if you are not already used to following, is the classification system which tries to ensure that there is a fair system of competition depending on the needs of particular athletes and so they are banded together into these ‘classifications’ which are explained on this BBC page.
The classification to look out for if you want to follow these athletes in the track and field is T20 and F20 respectively. It is 11 in the table tennis and 14 in the swimming.
I’ve been lucky enough to get tickets to go to the swimming and athletics. My delight has been compounded by the fact that I’ll be in both venues to see these athletes compete at the highest level and will be able to add my voice to the thousands cheering for them and the additional battle against discrimination which has needed to be fought in the world of sport which is supposed to value fair play above all and has punished those who have competed fairly particularly hard through their exclusion for twelve long years.
Welcome back, T20, F20, S14 and TT11 – I’ve missed you.
I hope to see many more sports and events added for 2016
Picture by Gary Huston at Flickr