BEYOND THE HEADLINES: What’s the difference?

Obviously North Okanagan residents are celebrating the golden victories of Josh Dueck, Ina Forrest and Sonja Gaudet. Their performances at the Paralympic Winter Games are something we should all be extremely proud of.

But how many locals actually got to share in these outstanding feats, even if it was just through watching the television?

More than 90 hours of TV and 250 hours of online coverage of the Sochi games were provided by the official media consortium, including 30 hours of original programming on CBC.

“Canadians are extremely passionate when it comes to supporting our homegrown athletes, so we’re proud to be leading this group of content providers that will provide more coverage than ever for a Paralympic Games,” said Jeffrey Orridge, executive director of sports properties and general manager, Olympics, CBC, in a release.

However, pursuing that passion was hit-and-miss as those 90 hours of Paralympic telecasts were often challenging to find, partly because they didn’t dominate prime time.

Now compare that to the media circus that was the Winter Olympics just a few weeks earlier.

According to CBC, a total of 1,653 televised hours, including English and French-language broadcasts, across all of the major networks involved were directed towards the Winter Games.

And while exact figures aren’t known,  there were at least 1,653 hours of coverage online.

“We at CBC/Radio-Canada are incredibly proud to have provided Canadian viewers and athletes with the coverage of Sochi 2014 that they clearly wanted and definitely deserved across all of our platforms,” said Heather Conway, executive vice-president, English services, CBC.

For me, the overwhelming question is why does the broadcast and Internet coverage for the Paralympics fall significantly short of the Olympics?

Is it because most of the media don’t consider Paralympians as athletic as their able-bodied counterparts even though they have had to overcome some substantial life challenges?

Do broadcasters not believe the general public is as interested in physically disabled athletes or is it because the depth of corporate sponsorship isn’t the same?

But of course, it’s not just broadcasters who need to be questioned.

Quite frequently, print media also relegate the achievements of Special Olympics athletes to the lifestyles portion of the paper and not the sports section. Rarely are those with developmental disabilities considered to be full-fledged athletes despite constant training and sacrifices or that they’re in better physical shape than most of us considered to be “normal.”

I always remember a client of the North Okanagan Community Life Society’s response when she was asked to define labels. “Labels are something you put on jars.”

Prior to the Paralympics beginning, Gaudet, a wheelchair curler, said, “I hope to lead by example and send a message of ability and not disability. And that it’s not about what’s missing, it’s about what’s there.”

I suspect most people will completely agree with Gaudet, even if we couldn’t find her on the television.


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