The Nine Gold Medals Less Valued
The 24th of August, 2021 marked the beginning of the 16th edition of the historic Paralympic games. This year's edition also features the debut of countries like Bhutan, Maldives and Paraguay and has also included the addition of new games like badminton and taekwondo. But even though this is a phenomenal development for the event, its popularity in media and awareness about it remains at an upsetting low. Through this article, Perspectoverse’s Arya Pradhan explores the reasons for its unpopularity as the event nears its end.
“That's how the race ended, with nine gold medals they came to the finish line holding hands, and a standing ovation and nine beaming faces said more than these words ever will.”
Many people ranging from highschool students to adults would recognise these words as the last stanza of David Lee Roth’s Nine Gold Medals, which portrayed the picture of unity in the 1976 “Special” Olympic games.
This poem might be the most popular representation of the Paralympic games in modern day media. While the world has familiarised itself with every aspect of the Olympics, and the names of athletes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Tom Daley have become common, people seem to know little to nothing about the Paralympics.
Since the event’s conception, the media has never reflected the event adequately. Even though the Paralympics is the second largest broadcasted television event (second only to the Olympics), people still seem to be dramatically more concerned about the Olympics. There are a couple of reasons as to why this keeps on happening:
The primary reason for this is the fact that the Paralympics haven’t been around for as long as the Olympics have, while the first Olympics was held in 1896 the first Paralympics only came post-war in the year of 1960 as a means of encouraging exercise among those who were injured in the war. Because of this, the Olympics got a huge head start in terms of popularity and overall involvement of the masses. As a result, modern day Olympic athletes have their own multi-million dollar brands and they also partake in promotional events which further increases the popularity of the Olympics as a whole.
Another reason for the lack of representation is the number of participants in the Paralympics is far less than the Olympics. A survey taken at the University of Southern California, which is known for producing the most Olympic athletes in the United States, revealed that while an impressive 41 students competed in the 2012 London Olympics, only one student competed in that year's Paralympics, the situation didn’t improve in the 2016 Rio Olympics where 44 students competed in the Olympics, while none competed in the Paralympics. These numbers amplify when we consider a global level, and it results in a near 60% deficit in the number of Paralympic participants compared to their Olympic counterparts (on average around 11,000 athletes compete in the Olympics while only around 4,500 athletes compete in the Paralympics). The sheer magnitude of the Olympic games alone is enough to give it a centralised media presence, while the Paralympics remain on the sidelines.
A third possible explanation is that the Paralympics are typically held in months which mark the beginning of other famous competitions which are crowd favourites. Like the start of domestic and Inter-European football leagues throughout Europe, and the start of the National Football League in the United States. These other sport events have a much greater presence in given localities and therefore, the Paralympics aren’t viewed as much. This isn’t a problem with the Olympics as it's typically held right before the beginning of other major sporting events.
Therefore, in conclusion the unpopularity of Paralympics can be chalked up to its relatively new conception, the lack of participating athletes, and the fact that it coincides with other popular sporting events. But in recent years things have been looking better for the Paralympics, the number of viewers for the Paralympics have even been surpassing the Olympics ( 4.1 billion to 3.6 billion in Rio and 4.2 billion to 2.3 billion this year) and people are starting to show signs of interest in the event. If things continue to go this way, there might come a day when the Olympics and Paralympics are put on the same pedestal.
Written by Arya Pradhan
Illustrated by Anushka Doshi
Edited by Anvita Tripathi