Paralympics not just about gold but dignity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 7:17am

A sporting event has ended of which many of us were aware, but few have followed. The Paralympic Games are over for another four years and Hong Kong and China have again triumphed, bringing home a glittering haul of medals that overshadow in numbers those clinched by their more able-bodied counterparts at the Olympic Games. Yet the disabled athletes who have shown the same determination and competitiveness are not as known, nor are they likely to be as publicly feted on their return. They deserve better.

Hong Kong's Paralympians took three gold medals, three silver and six bronze, while China's won a record 90 gold. The star of our 28-strong local team was Yu Chui-yee, one of the world's most successful wheelchair fencers, who added two golds to her impressive Paralympic tally. Other top performances came from Wong Ka-man, who took gold in the women's table tennis singles, and track athlete So Wa-wai, who missed out on gold in the 200 metres by a fraction of a second. They have overcome adversity and taken on challenges that can be little imagined, yet their stories have largely gone unnoticed, barely mentioned outside the disabled community.

That's unfortunate because while the Paralympics is a chance for elite sportspeople with disabilities to compete against one another, at their root the games are about making disability visible and acceptable. Too often those with physical and mental differences are stereotyped, marginalised and even shunned and ridiculed. Proving how far Hong Kong still has to go, an event that is as athletically significant as the Olympics has passed with only a small amount of the attention.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who competed in the Olympics and Paralympics with his carbon-fibre prosthetic blades, is the face of disabled sport. He has challenged perceptions of what those who are disabled can do. Hong Kong's Paralympians are equally inspiring. Giving them their due respect will help ensure that issues too often pushed into the background or ignored will be better addressed.