Time to put Paralympics in the spotlight

9:07 pm on 5 September 2016

Opinion - New Zealand is proud of our most decorated swimmer of recent times, and rightfully so. She's won six gold medals over the last two games, as well as being a fantastic and visible ambassador for her sport.

Sophie Pascoe

Paralympic star Sophie Pascoe. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

We can also be proud of the fact that Sophie Pascoe occupies this place while being a para-athlete.

Her profile is arguably higher than her able-bodied counterparts, and her success has meant she certainly hasn't faced the barrage of criticism that the New Zealand Olympic swimming team gets on a four-yearly basis.

Yet, Pascoe's time to shine comes after the Olympics has finished. Most people have had their fix of watching sports that aren't rugby or league for a few weeks and the Paralympics becomes somewhat of an afterthought.

TV coverage is nowhere near the wall-to-wall channel domination of its able-bodied counterparts, despite the fact that we're really quite good at it.

Pascoe isn't the only Kiwi who is destined to be coming home with a stash of metal after this edition of the Paralympics. Javelin thrower Holly Robinson, cyclist Emma Foy and her pilot Emma Thompson, and shooter Mike Johnson will most likely pick up some medals as well.

Para-Olympian Holly Robinson.

Para-Olympian Holly Robinson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

So what's the best way to make sure they get seen?

The Olympics and Paralympics are two totally separate organisations, so the idea of running the two events concurrently to maximise exposure is pretty unlikely.

But how about holding the Paralympics first on alternate years, as a gesture to show the world values all athletes the same.

Or, having it in a completely separate year. That way it can have its own place, plus host cities can get a bit more use out of the venues they've spent millions constructing.

Already we've seen one para-athlete, Oscar Pistorius, qualify for the Olympics, which is the ultimate way para-sports could achieve profile.

Unfortunately, Pistorius, in jail for murder, has not turned out not to be a good role model, but the fact still remains that he did achieve the crossover, at London 2012, that may yet lead to others repeating his accomplishment.

The last few decades have seen a great deal in the advancement of New Zealand women in sport - our highest profile golfer, shot-putter, cyclist and now pole-vaulter are all female.

They got there through sheer hard work, determination and training - but also because they've had the media coverage and public interest to help them sustain their athletic goals.

Let's break down some more boundaries as a sporting nation and give our para-athletes, and the games they represent us in, the spotlight they deserve.

*Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

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