2013 Winter Special Olympics: Apathy adds to more stigma.

4 Feb

The games started on January 29 in Pyeongchang, South Korea with the participation of 3,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from all over the world pledging their Olympic oath- “let me win but if I cannot, let me be brave in the attempt”. The games have the support of prominent political leaders and Olympian athletes, but somehow that’s not enough to get the media’s attention.

The games are aimed at helping people with intellectual disabilities find new strengths and abilities through sports, and to inspire communities to “open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential”, organizers said. The Special Olympics have been held every two years since 1968, with summer and winter games alternating since 1977. Anyone over the age of eight with intellectual disabilities can participate in the Special Olympics.

I found out about the Winter Special Olympics via twitter. The only reason why I have a twitter account is to follow news and updates by INGOs and news portals. I don’t tweet. I don’t even know how to do it. I read it. Twitter and the Special Olympics website are the two places where I was able to follow the games. Sadly, the coverage of the 2013 Special Olympics has been minimal to nonexistent. I’ve done a little research in the mainstream media over the past seven days, and I found the media to be disinterested and indifferent towards such event. Only four news outlets, often disseminating the same information from the Associated Press, published one article during the event. The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Bangkok Post mentioned the games in some section of their news. However, the Huffington post published more than one article in their blog during the games, as a part of a series produced in collaboration with the Special Olympics.

Even more disappointing is the fact that two of those articles (except the Huffington Post and the Bangkok Post) focused their stories on South Korea’s long-criticized treatment of the disabled, who for decades were kept out of the mainstream. I understand the critics and the degradation and dehumanization ways with their classification of disabilities. It is something that needs to be addressed, but (today) why not emphasize and celebrate these athletes and their amazing achievements. The Olympian athletes have come very far, have sacrificed a lot and have undergone an intense routine of self-discipline, resilience and self-discovery. They have endured hard training sessions and they have learned to go on despite all the obstacles they have encountered along the way. It all sounds familiar, right? It does because every athlete goes through that. The only difference between these athletes and you and me is that most live in poverty, most are denied education, most are unemployed, most are lonely and most are stigmatized. And yet, they have followed their dreams, they have fought social stigma and for the past seven days they have braved the slopes, the half pipe, and the ice rink. Therefore, yes it’s TIME to CELEBRATE and ACKNOWLEDGE them! It’s about them, not politics, not the 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s about THEM!

I don’t expect a front page in the NYTimes, but I would love to see more inclusive media coverage that promotes awareness and that celebrates differences. If we want things to change, Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma and Nobel Prize, said during the games, “we must face reality in order to address it”. For now, the 2013 Winter Special Games have come and go and the media is still talking about Beyonce’s lip-sync… go figure. There’s a long road ahead for the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles.

“When we empower people with disabilities we strengthen dignity for all” Ban-Ki Moon UN Secretary General at the opening ceremony via video conference.

Congratulations to all the participating athletes!


4 Responses to “2013 Winter Special Olympics: Apathy adds to more stigma.”

  1. Devin February 5, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    First of all, great post – I personally am surprised we didn’t see more coverage of the Winter Special Olympics – even though the tried and true mantra of “if it bleeds it leads” dominates news media, I think that these games are an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles that news outlets also relish. It is an opportunity to uplift the spirits of readers and leave them feeling good about life. I think there is something inherently wrong with the modern human condition that causes many to view these games as something far less than what they truly are. Perhaps it’s tied to what I perceive as the guilt brought on by luck, privilege and comfort that I think many prefer not to bring to the forefront of their thoughts.

    Second, there are a ton of great resources and articles being posted lately on UNICEF’s CEE/CIS Twitter page: https://twitter.com/unicefceecis. Enjoy!

  2. georgina February 5, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Unfortunately the media indifference creates more stigma and at times it even creates a culture of fear. Recents articles speculating about shooters having Aspergers Syndrome or asome kind of mental imbalance are contributing more to the stigmatization and vulnerability of people with intellectual disabilities. Thanks for your comment Dev!
    PS: great resource UNICEF CEE/CIS!

  3. Devin February 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    It kind of makes you wonder: media is a product, consumed by us, the consumer. In a normal system of supply and demand, one would assume that we consumers are receiving the news that we demand. If this is the case, what does it take for a public demand for news coverage on this? If it is the case that news media are part of an anomaly where supply influences the demand, then news media are telling us not to care about the Special Olympics and we are simply following suit.

    Of course, between an inauguration, a foreign intervention, a Superbowl, and of course, BEYONCE, I guess it’s hard to find time or space to cover everything……..

  4. georgina February 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    A good article from professional snowboarder Hannah Teeter reflecting on her participation in the games as an Ambassador Athlete and some great pics from the event….

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