During the London 2012 Paralympic Games, between August 29 and September 9, Canadian newspapers published 22 front-page stories about the Paralympics. CBC’s The National, CTV News and Canada AM, and SRC Télévision’s Le Téléjournal and Le Point broadcasted 35 stories on the Paralympics during the same period.
Contrast those numbers with the same statistics during London 2012 Olympic Games: 332 front-page stories in Canadian newspapers, and 340 news segments broadcast on CTV, CBC, and SRC.
To recap: 22 versus 332; 35 versus 340…a long way from the Senate Human Rights committee’s call for Canadian Paralympians to be celebrated equally alongside their Olympic counterparts.
But wait, the London 2012 Summer Olympics featured more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries! Of course there was lots of media coverage!
Here’s the good news: Canadian media embraced Canadian Olympians—indeed, Olympians from around the world—and shared their stories with an enthusiastic and supportive Canadian public. The Olympics are meant to excite and inspire, and the media played a huge role in facilitating the experience. Unlike in other countries, many Olympic events were broadcast live, for instance. We shouldn’t discount the positive role that the Canadian media played in broadcasting and chronicling the Games from across the Atlantic so that we could taste Olympic spirit and energy.
The Olympics are the world’s largest sport event. Agreed: of course there was lots of media coverage!
“The world’s largest sporting event?” Out of curiosity…what’s the world’s second-largest sporting event?
In fact, the London 2012 Summer Paralympics was the largest Paralympics ever: 4,294 athletes from 164 countries participated. In terms of the number of athletes, these Paralympics were about two-thirds larger than the recent Winter Olympics.
In the Canadian context, the difference in numbers is proportionately smaller: 277 Canadians competed in 24 sports at the 2012 Olympics; 145 Canadians competed in 15 sports at the 2012 Paralympics.
It’s hard to tell from the Canadian media coverage that we just witnessed (or at least could have witnessed) the world’s second-largest sporting event featuring Canada’s second-largest sport team. Most Canadians aren’t aware when the Paralympics began or ended, never mind that Canadian Paralympians won thirteen more medals than their Olympic counterparts, despite the Paralympians’ lowest total since 1972.
In the United States, meanwhile, the self-proclaimed ‘worldwide leader in sports’ barely covered the Paralympics. So the problem of inequitable coverage isn’t unique to Canada.
This statistical compare-and-contrast exercise isn’t intended to incite competition between the Olympics and the Paralympics; there isn’t a ‘celebration’ quota in Canada of which I am aware. When it comes to sharing inspiring stories about great Canadians—regardless of age, sex, race, or disability—there should always be room for another.
What I mean to illustrate is the remarkable opportunity that our government has to show global leadership in promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities. We should celebrate and promote our Canadian Paralympians in a manner equal and proportionate to the way that we celebrate our Canadian Olympians. What does ‘equal and proportionate’ look like? Front-page spreads and nightly news top-stories are crude measurements, though here they served to demonstrate the inequity. Ultimately, however, a truly inclusive and unreserved celebration of Canadian sporting excellence means recognizing that Canadian Paralympians are primarily defined not by their disability, but by their extraordinary athletic abilities and incredible determination. Just like Olympians. Of course there should be lots of media coverage! There’s just so much to celebrate.