After reading the chapter, “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” in Professor Lavaque-Manty’s book, The Playing Fields of Eton (2009), I remember a controversial and news worthy decision the Paralympics organization made around a year ago. When they announced the swimming events for the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympics, new events were added to the lineup. No big deal, right? The problem, however, was the composition of these new additions. The new relays were to be “mixed.” Men and women could compete in the same relay as a team. Is this decision a good idea and will it encourage more sports to follow suit?
To be quite honest, I was disappointed when the mixed relays were approved. I didn’t really see the need for them. Both men and women were competing in the same events, just not alongside or against each other. However, after reading a part of Manty’s book, I have an idea of why spectators and swimmers alike desired such an event. The traditional gender classified relays, in which either four men or four women constitute a team, were hinting at the value barrier of attitude Manty discusses in his book. He explains that an attitude of inferiority exists towards someone who is classified as untraditional, such as a female or disabled athlete. Since they are untraditional, it is believed they will not be able to perform at par in the sports arena. I began to think about the female parathletes. There was a whole new organization created for them, first because of their physical disabilities and second, because they are women and it is assumed, like in all sports, that they won’t be effective in competing against men. I thought of them as being in double jeopardy, indirectly told because of who they are, they can’t compete just as athletes, but as female parathletes. Now add in the mixed relays and one of those barriers, the gender barrier, is broken down. I took this decision as a way for the parathletes to come together, no matter their gender, and prove that they are perfectly able contenders in the sports world. It is a first step in explaining to the world that this value barrier of attitude is nothing but a misconception, and that this attitude can be broken down by people many would least expect, like the women parathletes.
I have watched the Paralympics before and am excited for them to come back in less than two years. I have such an appreciation for these athletes and feel inspired by them daily. However, I am also excited to see what similar decisions other sports organizations will make, if any. The long spectrum of team vs. individual sports exists and I wonder if there will be any correlation of which sports choose to break the barrier of inferiority. Until then, I look forward to next year and the 2015 World Championships.