Yesterday I took delivery of these pretty babies and I’m so excited. I’ve been an athletics fan since I was tiny. I’ve always watched the IAAF World Championships and promised myself that one day I’d be there.
It was always a pipe dream – one of those things you kind of dream about but never consider as an actual possibility. Then I got an alert that the tickets for the London Games were about to open for ballot and, out of the 3 or 4 sessions I put my name down for, I got one. There’ll be some track and field finals, some heats but I’m most looking forward to seeing some jump events. The glory is in sprinting for the most part but I was a great little triple jumper back in my walking days so that will always hold a bittersweet place in my heart. People do ask me, though, why I bother with ‘regular’ athletics when I can’t join in? Well, some people obsess over football even though they can’t kick a ball straight or love going to concerts when they haven’t got a musical bone in their body. Just ‘cos I can’t hurdle anymore doesn’t mean I can’t watch other people excel at it.
The question I think a lot of people are skirting around is why I’m not going to the Para-Athletics instead? Hmm. It’s a tough one to answer in a few words.
A few years ago I went to the para games in Birmingham. It was treated as something of an afterthought and a chore for the organisers. The event was so poorly organised that disable patrons such as myself, the key demographic for this type of thing, were penned into a stand with a huge (and needless, metal rail) right at eye level. Surely the geniuses co-ordinating such an event knows that putting a large obstruction in the way of a largely immobile audience will garner you nothing but a wheelpede*. In the years since I attended perhaps the situation has improved and I hope that the World Championships will invest a significant amount.
After the 2012 Olympics in London, we were promised a revolution in disability sport. However, out of the £10.2 million in funding disabled sports were meant to benefit from, a quick look at Google showed that only £3.5 million was received. No doubt people will start saying the first number was just a aim or was part of some on-going scheme the government forgot to tell me about but I have not seen much evidence of disability sport being promoted any better than it was 15 years ago. My local gym offers inclusive fitness classes but only once a week and during the day when people are often work – yes, even us lot can have jobs. There are a few sports clubs for disabled kids. For adults though… to find any real attempt at disability sport, I would have to travel across the county. It can’t cost much to put a wheelchair basketball practice together. And there are so many sports adapted to different disabilities now that I’d like to try if I had the chance.
But I won’t get the chance because I’m not an expert at anything already; I don’t have thousands of pounds to waste on equipment I might only use once to try a sport; I’m not young enough; no-one else is funding me making UK Sport want to poach me. In short, if you’re not a proven asset and past your prime, you’ll never play sports again unless you’re really lucky. Being a medal winner isn’t a failsafe though. Paralympian Kadeena Cox controversially had her funding stopped while she filmed a reality show until she could prove her fitness afterwards. It was claimed this was because she could not keep up her regular training whilst other athletes not of the disabled variety had to stop their training too but their funding continued. I have had many debates on how the show could have affected her condition and ability to perform and my reply is always that a show like The Jump could have had a detrimental effect on any of the stars so isn’t there something that whiffs ever so slightly of discrimination? On the off chance the gets to Ms Cox, I’m sorry I’m using you to make my point.
I will always watch and enjoy athletics whether it features able-bodied or disabled athletes or, like the Nitro Games, a mixture of both. Just because I have a disability doesn’t mean I automatically have to be enthusiastic about it or anything related to it. I’ll keep pursuing the interests I’ve always had – sport, unicorns, cake…
*wheellpede – a stampede but more round