Only a Game? Oh, say can you see the Paralympians

American president, Barack Obama.
American president, Barack Obama.

Try this. Listen to U.S. President, Barack Obama’s official nomination acceptance speech from Charlotte in North Carolina on Friday and then have a look at America’s medal tally for at the London Paralympic Games.

In his speech Obama spoke of how his grandfather fought in Patton’s Army during World War II and how his grandmother worked on board a bomber assembly line when her husband was away.

Obama’s speech evoked ideas of fairness for all, a we are all in this together outlook, if you will. In the context of American paralympians, President Obama’s sentiments could not be further from the truth.

When it comes to how America view disabled athletes and their achievements, they could learn a lot from countries like Ukraine, Russia and China.

Team USA topped the medals table at the London Olympics last month. In fact, they have topped the medals table in four of the last five Games, but when it comes to the Paralympics they are way behind the rest of the world.

Dick Traum, President of Archilles International, a non-profit organisation working in athletics for people with disabilities, believes that the US Paralympic medal standing reflects a lack of money and a lack of interest in disabled sports within the USA.

“The United States was slow to engage in grass roots development of sports for people with disabilities,” said Traum

“As a consequence, it will be years before elite Paralympians will be in a position to threaten medal powerhouses China and Great Britain.”

Mention the names of American athletes Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte or Tyson Gay on the streets of Baltimore, New York or Pasadena and they’ll know exactly who you are talking about. But I wonder how many Americans have heard of swimmers Justin Zook, Lantz Lamback or legendary nine time gold medal Paralympic wheelchair basketball player David Kiley?

Whilst an America with Obama in the Oval Office is much more desirable than a country led by a Bible wielding Mitt Romney, it doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory in the ‘Land of the Free’.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Olympics is much more popular than the Paralympics but that shouldn’t mean American television stations should be able to ignore it.

NBC, one of America’s biggest network television broadcasters and the holder of the rights to broadcast the Games, chose not to provide any live coverage.

In total, NBC have only devoted 150 hours during prime time whilst British broadcasters, Channel 4, has given over 400 hours worth of coverage.

Towards the end of his speech, Obama said “we leave no one behind” but when I considered the significant financial disparity between Parlympians and Olympians I couldn’t help but think that, maybe unwittingly, Obama and America, are leaving disabled people behind.

When it comes to sporting achievement no country expects more than the USA. The Americans have also seen off the recent challenge made by China and Russia but when it comes to the Paralympics the medal tally couldn’t be more different.

At the time of going to print, team USA had 27 gold medals. It’s a drop in the ocean figure when you consider that the Chinese were top with 84.

Ireland, a country with a population of 6.3 million, has amassed an amazing eight gold medals; the USA have only taken 19 more than the Irish but they are a country with a population of 314.3 million. Underachieving? I think so!

Like most things in life, the reason for the disparity between America’s performance at the Olympics and then at the Paralympics, is because of financial incentives and funding.

Some others suggest that many of the nations enjoying relative success at the Paralympics have publicly funded health systems i.e. Great Britain (second in the medals table) with the N.H.S. and others including Ukraine and the Russia.

The funding issue came to the fore in 2003 when three American athletes took the United States Olympic Committee to court, alleging that they under funded American paralympian athletes.

‘Our group has been thrown crumbs by the USOC for decades,’ one of the complainants and a decorated Paralympian, Scot Hollonbeck, was quoted as saying at the time.

The three athletes alleged that the USOC discriminated against Paralympians and offered them fewer health care benefits than their Olympic counterparts.heir Olympic counterparts.

Progress has been made since 2003. During the legal proceedings the USOC increased it’s funding of Paralympic sport from $3m to $11.4 m.

There’s no doubt that over the years, American Paralympic sport has improved but if Obama and the American people want to pride themselves on the American dream and equality for all then they must start treating Paralympic athletes and people with disabilities the same way as everyone else.