Challenges to the promotion of sport participation among disabled people in South Korea: The approach of the Korea Paralympic Committee
Despite the benefits of physical activity and sport, many disabled people lead inactive lifestyles. To provide some figures, recently it was reported that, in South Korea, only 24.9% of disabled people participate in sports, compared to 49.3% of non-disabled people.
To promote sport participation among disabled people there are several challenges that need to be addressed. Severely disabled people tend to seclude themselves from society and believe that disability sport is only available for people with mild disabilities. Some disabled people are not even aware of what types of sports they could participate in.
In addition, mainstream media dedicates very little resources to support disability sports. An exemplary case is what happened during the 2018 Pyeong-Chang Paralympics Games in South Korea. Although there were some stories of success, it was disappointing that the Paralympic Games received greater mainstream media coverage outside South Korea than inside. For example, the UK’s Channel 4 dedicated a total of 100 hours to the Paralympic Games, the USA 94 hours, Japan 62 hours and Germany 60 hours. In contrast, South Korean mainstream broadcasting gave a meagre 18 hours of coverage to the 2018 Pyeong-Chang Paralympics Game.
To promote sport participation among a wide range of disabled people, the Korea Paralympic Committee (KPC), where I work, has used the Paralympics and Paralympians as platforms. Through the Pyeong-Chang Paralympic Games, Paralympians’ voices and actions became emblematic of disabled society in South Korea.
At the same time, the KPC has exercised their influence to control the planning, organising and directing of the disability rights movement, thanks to their advanced organisational information and resources. Thus, the Para-sport community can advocate disability rights and disability inclusive environments for the micro (e.g., athletes), meso (e.g., disability sport), and macro (e.g., disability non-sport) layers of society.
To deliver the message of the importance of physical activity and disability inclusion, the KPC and Paralympians have focused on a wide range of media platforms as a catalyst to raise awareness for disability sport. Although media for Para-sport has the potential to frame a heroic portrayal of disability, creating a hierarchy between disabled athletes and non-athlete disabled people, the media could stimulate both hedonic (e.g., immediate gratification, interest in disability sport) and eudaimonic (e.g., sustainable cognitive experiences that shift societal attitude towards disability inclusion) approaches.
Fitting here is an example of collaboration between Paralympians and a film company in South Korea. An ice sledge hockey team participated in a documentary film entitled ‘We ride a sled’, which aimed to shine a light on disability rights and raise awareness for disability sports. Despite reaching an audience of 2,432 people (much less than commercial films), this delivered an informational and inspirational message to the public.
As another example of harnessing visual resources, an infographic was used to disseminate guidelines for promoting the participation of disabled people in physical activity. This method was found to be an affordable, understandable and engaging manner to reach a large number of people by communicating repeatedly in diverse ways (e.g., social media, poster form in public places).
In line with media approaches, the KPC has used online platforms to maximise information flow and extend their influence over the larger disability society. For example, the KPC has provided social, political and cultural perspectives of sports and uploaded various types of Para-sport competition videos to increase awareness of disabled sports through their website, a magazine, and social media accounts (e.g., Instragram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). In 2019, they initiated live online coverage of Para-sports with STNsports (one of South Korea’s broadcasting stations) and started to train special commentators for Para-sport games.
Inhyang Choi has recently completed her PhD at Durham University, with her thesis focusing on disability sport and activism. She is currently working as an international advisor at the Korea Paralympic Committee.