The Sydney 2000 Olympics are when the Paralympics are said to have come of age, and there is no doubt that in London in 2012 they were warmly received by sports fans. The television coverage by Channel Four in the UK went a long way to help the average fan understand how athletes are categorised in each event, to ensure an even playing field.
There were however still huge disparities between some competing nations. Some nations invested heavily in their Paralympic programs and some of these athletes had state-of-the-art wheelchairs to assist them in becoming the best athlete they could be. Some of the poorer nations were left to try and match these performers in a standard wheelchair. Sadly the investment in technology to assist athletes, and even the support mechanisms in place, vary dramatically just as much with able-bodied athletes. The support staff that some of the tier-one nations have at the Rugby World Cup as opposed to the lower ranked nation is phenomenal.
What is tragic is when Athletes are not given an opportunity to compete. Sadly Kenya’s Paralympic Athletics team find themselves in this position.
The BBC reported that Kenya’s para-athletic team failed to travel to the World Championships in Doha as their government had pulled their funding at the last minute. Agnes Oluoch, head of the country’s Paralympic committee, told the BBC that in contrast “the government supported the able-bodied athletes 100%”.
These games are one of the last chances for athletes to qualify for the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. At the Olympic qualifiers in the northern summer Kenya came top of the medals table.
The World Championships are not the final chance for athletes to qualify, there will be other chances in the next six months, however with no funds it will be hard for Kenyan athletes to get to the various meets. Some of these meets do invite competitors to compete, although only in exceptional circumstances. Hopefully this may happen for some of Kenya’s athletes.
It is good that the decision by the Kenyan Government has made headlines as it shows how far the Paralympic movement has come. It also shows that the world over fans want to see Paralympic athletes given the same opportunities as able-boded athletes, and quite rightly so. It is just very sad that a country that has such a proud Athletic tradition has made such a decision.
Ms Oluoch told the BBC her government’s decision not to fund the team was unfair. “The able bodied [athletes] had their World Championship in Beijing and I think the government supported it 100% but when it comes to the para-athletes, they really don’t care.” This is a statement one really does not want to believe, and hopefully the global media attention will see the Government have a change of heart.