After Olympic fever, the Notting Hill Carnival and the school summer holidays, you’d expect London to be a little emptier and less full of flags and face paint, but that is certainly not the case. Why? Because it’s Paralympic season! As inspiring and hairs-on-your-arms-raising as the Olympics, the Paralympics is already thrilling people across the world. If nothing else, it certainly makes that note explaining that you can’t play football because you forgot your kit look pretty bad. Take the Peruvian, Pompilio Falconi-Alvarez, who threw discus in the F35/36 final a few days ago. Finishing 10th, with a season’s best of 31.08m, Pompilio competed without the medicine that controls his multiple sclerosis symptoms. Then there’s Terezinha Guilhermina, the Brazilian sprinter, who with her guide, sped to a gold medal in the 200m T11 final. And who could have missed her compatriot, Alan Oliveira, who beat Oscar Pistorius in the T44 200m, in world record time?
So who else should we watch out for in the coming days? Well, it seems that for several countries in Latin America and the Spanish Caribbean, it will be case of blink and you’ll miss them. This is because, with the exception of Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, all the other contingents are fielding under 10 competitors each. Added to this, four countries, Paraguay, Guyana, Belize and Bolivia, have no Paralympic competitors at all. There are undoubtedly some good reasons for this. Lack of money on the part of countries and competitors, lack of equipment, lack of opportunities, and lack of awareness of disabled sport may all play a part.
The Paralympics offers a positive image of disability and new role models to the world. It takes pity, prejudice and notions of difference and replaces them with respect, admiration and a new sense of “normal”. Nevertheless, outside the Paralympics, it is often difficult to be disabled. According to a recent WHO report on disability, at least 15% (over 1 in 10 people) of the world experiences some kind of disability, yet that same 15% will experience worse health and socio-economic outcomes than the able-bodied 85%. On a visit to South America in 2008, the only disabled people I saw begged because they were unable to work or to find it in the first place. At the same time as views on disability are changing, I have witnessed the outmoded and unsavoury opinions that South American members of my family have about disability and the prospects of those with them. This is not to detract from what every athlete has achieved, nor what they have yet to achieve, but with the 2016 Games being held in Brazil, Latin American countries will have fewer excuses. The eyes of the world will be very firmly on them and their neighbours. Let’s hope we see even more competitors, medals, and even better attitudes in the next four years. For now, look out for Latin Americans in a variety of disciplines. Rock on London, roll on Rio!
Camila Garces, Guest Contributor