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Redefining disability sport: Legacy or fantasy?


Redefining disability sport: Legacy or fantasy?

As the host nation of the 2016 Paralympic Games, Brazil has the opportunity to alter public perceptions.

As the dust settles on another pulsating Olympic Games, attention turns to the Paralympians as they prepare to compete in Rio. The Paralympic movement spawned from a desire to encourage the rehabilitation and empowerment of individuals with physical disabilities. While many countries now offer increasing opportunities for participation in disability sport, what role can the modern Paralympics play in changing attitudes in Brazil?

At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, a record number of athletes participated and this further increased four years later in London. Surveys from the BBC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) showed that public attitudes (within the host nations) towards disabled people and disability sport had improved following the games. In the UK, this was in part down to the award winning marketing campaign of the games broadcaster, Channel 4, with a focus on the sporting ability of an individual rather than the disability. A similar campaign was organised by the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) with a focus on changing perceptions.

This demonstrates that some countries are working to improve the life experience of athletes with disabilities by creating opportunities and changing public perceptions, but what will be the social legacy of Rio 2016? In 2011 the Brazilian government introduced the project - Plano de Direitos da Pessoa com Deficiência - Viver Sem Limite (Plan for the Rights of People with Disabilities – Living Without Limits) and there have been measures put in place to make local authorities more accountable for improving accessibility for disabled people.

Disability sport requires significant investment, and the introduction of the Inclusion of People with Disabilities Act in 2015 is evidence of a government commitment to the funding of disability sport programmes. This funding structure mirrors that of the UK where profits from the national lottery are reinvested in social and sporting projects. However, as the countdown to the Paralympics continues, there remains an undercurrent of prejudice towards disabled people across Brazilian society.

Sport and development projects are a clear demonstration that large scale government intervention is not the only way for sport to act as a catalyst to social change. Blaze Sports International have been operating a 'Sport for All' project over the last two years with the focus being reducing the stigma of individuals with disabilities, promoting the ability of individuals, and encouraging independence of individuals with a disability. The project trained coaches and volunteers on managing individuals with disabilities and raised awareness on the potential for disabled children to participate in sport and physical activity.

There has been progress in Brazil in the way that people with disabilities are treated including an increase in government legislation and funding to support their development. In the aftermath of the Paralympics the political and economic problems in Brazil will undoubtedly resurface, but there is hope that the legacy of the Paralympic Games can be one of reducing discrimination and promoting inclusivity.



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Neil Rankin


Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - 23:00