Paralympics 2016 – Beside and beyond

Published: September 13, 2016
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A couple of weeks ago there were concerns that only 12% or 300,000 of the tickets were sold, but the organising committee has seen a huge surge in sales as it approached the games. PHOTO: REUTERS

Para-   (parə/), prefix.    

Beside; Beyond.

For me personally, the Paralympic Games, that kickstarted last week on Wednesday, promise to be an even greater celebration of sporting excellence than the Olympics itself.

Brazilian Paralympic swimmer Clodoaldo Silva lights the flame during the opening ceremony at 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Photo: Reuters

The event as the name suggests takes place ‘beside’ the Olympic Games, but as far as I am concerned it goes ‘beyond’ them, considering what the particular group of participating athletes achieve during the course of this quadrennial contest.

With the sort of world we live in, the Paralympians, in all likelihood, would have been laughed at, mocked or at worst bullied by their peers at any one point in their life, but Paralympics have highlighted what these gifted individuals can do rather than what they cannot.

German paralympic long jumper Markus Rehm aka ‘Blade Jumper’ ready for Rio defence
Photo: AFP

A performer interacts with a robotic arm during the opening ceremony, at 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Photo: Sergio Moraes, Reuters

Since 1988, the Games have taken place in the same city as the Olympics, and I was fortunate enough to watch the very first edition. It was merely an hour long highlights show from the day’s proceedings, but boy, was I spellbound throughout those 60 minutes every single day.

What I saw were, imperfect humans to some but super humans to my young self.

Members of the Brazilian athletic delegation participate in the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Photo: EPA

These were athletes that contemporary society had patronised, insulted, and made to feel inferior. However they rose above and ‘beyond’ this mind-set to leave lasting imprints on a kid’s mind

Brazilian Paralympic runner Marcia Malsar falls while carrying the torch as rain falls during the opening ceremony at 2016 Rio Paralympics
Photo: Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

Brazilian Paralympic runner Marcia Malsar falls while carrying the torch as rain falls during the opening ceremony at 2016 Rio Paralympics
Photo: Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

Now fast forward to 2016 and this celebration of human spirit has taken us to Rio. A couple of weeks ago, there were concerns that only 12% or 300,000 of the tickets were sold, but the organising committee has seen a huge surge in sales as it approached the games, with an average of 40,000 seats sold per day since then. The organisers expect the total number of tickets to surpass the 1.8 million sold at the Beijing Paralympics.

South African athletes cheer as they take part in the opening ceremony at 2016 Rio Paralympics,
Photo: Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

The lack of ticket sales wasn’t just the only concern that the games had to endure. Venues shutting down or the fact that several countries lacked the required funding to send athletes to Rio were also major obstacles standing in the way of organisers.

Track and field athletes chase Canada’s first medal of Rio Paralympics.
Photo: Yahoo Sports Canada

The dire situation even lead Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, to share his apprehensions with the reporters at the time.

 “Never before in the 56-year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this.”

But as soon as the first fireworks exploded into the sky above Brazil’s iconic Maracana stadium, all the uncertainties of the recent past became a distant memory.

Rio opens Games for ‘superhumans’
Photo: Reuters

View of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Photo: AFP

From Pakistan with one Para-athlete Haider Ali in long jump to China with over 300 Paralympians, around 4,350 athletes from more than 160 countries are set to fight for top honours in 22 sports disciplines.

Pakistan’s Haider Ali competes in the men’s long jump F37/38 final during the athletics competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Photo: AFP

Athletes from Kuwait take part in the opening ceremony at 2016 Rio Paralympics, Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 7, 2016.
Photo: Sergio Moraes, Reuters

With the games now in full swing, let us hope that the real legacy of the whole Olympic movement, which undoubtedly includes the conventional Olympics sitting ‘beside’ Paralympics, will be an enduring shift in public perception towards disability. It is high time we now go ‘beyond’ the apathetic attitude that has engulfed all of us so-called humans.

Hassan Sardar

Hassan Sardar

The author is an aspiring filmmaker and a diehard Liverpool fan. He also teaches Screenwriting and Cinematography, and loves tattoos and flip-flops. He tweets as @CineSardar (twitter.com/CineSardar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.