Comment: Tsk, tsk, tsk

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Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US, urges sports event organisers to think more about the event–day experiences of disabled fans.

" That headline just about sums it up...sadness, regret, compassion, some understanding, consolation, benevolence, a charitable moment or two, being gracious... sympathetic or a bit of a humanitarian. That is what venues and teams generally claim to display for the disabled who are avid sports fans. There are governmental rules concerning what has to be done to accommodate the infirm, incapacitated and those unable to enjoy the sporting event they are attending to its fullest. What does that mean precisely? It translates into adequate facilities that will be capable of allowing the disabled spectators of a particular event to enjoy it as much as others, to be provided with seating that has the same advantages, access to more than a distant view of the competition, the ability to have easier access to their seating and moving about the stadium, arena, pitch, ballpark or amphitheatre. They must be able to habituate the food courts and offerings, the stands where the sodas and, yes, brews, are available, the restrooms, the exits to their vehicles. But, that is not what it is all about for the leagues, teams, vendors, parking attendants and concessions, seating arrangements that would displace those who are not disabled coupled with the cost of marrying, if you will, sympathetic to acclimating and conforming for a smaller segment of the fan population that requires assistance that goes beyond "May I hold this door for you? "The disabled have been victimised and not by choice. They are the less fortunate. To see and meet them is to silently thank whatever deity it is in which you believe that you are not in their place. That is a fact of life. It translates to the same cringing feeling, the ache in the pit of your stomach when at the shopping mall and a parent is pushing a wheel chair with their child...yes, child...seated in it. That is the moment when your arm goes around your own child or your hand tightens on theirs. It is the reaction that must be conveyed to our minds as well, without prodding or evidence of what is compared to what can be. It must be primary to consider the less fortunate that want to enjoy the everyday pleasures that we do in as much of the same fashion as we are able to on a given weekend or evening. Venues must wake up to this need. They must be sensitive to the requirements of the luckless, and be more generous and gracious. They must put dollars, pounds, francs, Euros, lira and yen aside regarding input and, instead, send them in the opposite direction. The dividends will be bountiful. There are no architectural suggestions forthcoming. They are obvious. There is no need to discuss the investment that must be made versus the return as a person or investor. It is clear–cut. We are a bonded society and must, whenever possible, act as one, not a politically or socially divisible humankind. There is no soap box upon which I am perched presently; I am not standing in London's Hyde Park or on a corner of 42nd Street in New York City. There is no ulterior motivation here, just common sense. And, the public holds the same influence over the eventual results as we have influencing Elin Woods to remain with Tiger and work it out. But, the need is as plain, as has been said too many times, as the nose on your face. "Such a shame!" does not work any longer. Empathising is fine, to an extent. But, sadly, you are not able to identify with the disabled. You cannot put yourself in their place but their place at the games ought to be pretty close to whatever is done for those without disabilities. Tsk, tsk, tsk falls short...very much so. For the record, persons with disabilities make up 10% of the world's population. Care to do the math? Disabilities, according to the latest studies, are associated with 20% of global poverty. The fact of the matter is that teams and leagues do not want to undertake the expense of additional space for wheelchairs, equipment to get public safety messages to the deaf, to meet new proposed federal regulations for the disabled in the US. Ticketing, seating, structural, access to power–driven mobility devices, changers in restrooms, easier ingress to vendor stations for food and beverages. Are they not the equal of the other fans in their enthusiasm for the teams? One would certainly think so. Are they not deserving of more? Need that be answered with more than a "yes? " Can they see the field of play from a vantage point equal to other seating? Line of sight for those that cannot stand and cheer with the rest of the fans is important. What about parking? Designated spaces closer to entry? Over 30, 000 disabled supporters every week go to football throughout the UK and the leagues are lacking greatly in recognising that and helping out in every way possible. That is also a shame. On another subject, the Paralympics have historically followed the Olympics but between the participants, family and friends, with a smattering...a small one. . of media, does anyone really care? If it does not come with dollar signs and mainstream, TV, print...are not going to cover it. They view it as a spectacle of sorts dedicated to the impaired having their competitive day in the sun, or on the slopes, like going out to dinner on a grand scale. Papers will not be sold, ears will not be glued to the radio and eyeballs are not in abundance to see and admire what these athletes have achieved. Yes, athletes with burdens, afflictions, impairments but athletes nonetheless. The profile of what they have done has to be raised but it is not an easy task. It can, however, be made easier if the media rose to the occasion and challenge. Think of it this way...650 athletes and 10 days of events, compared to the Olympics' 17 days and more than 2, 600 athletes, competing at the top of their game and physical skills, not attenuated nor incapacitated but, yet, reaching out, striving, realising and relishing whatever levels they can reach. They are in the back of the bus. The public is not waiting for the results of the Paralympics but that is not the key. What has been missed completely is the competition itself, not the records broken. It is the perseverance and dedication, the desire to achieve against all odds, to dust one's self off, get up and start all over again. The inevitable question and storyline is whether or not you could do it if you had to or might you have given up in despair and self–pity? These athletes, those of the Paralympics, are as dedicated, devoted to training regimens and, ultimately, the ability to savour and rejoice in the limelight of winning a medal. They must be recognised more than has ever been the case but who will be the first to step forward? Will it be a network in the US, the BBC (UK), Deutsche Welle (Germany), The Filipino Channel (Philippines), RFO (France), TV Japan, TV Polonia or any other that will take the lead? The saddest part of all is that, in our society, we create heroes, legends, idols, storied figures, immortals, fantastic tales of derring–do and whatever else the public is able to devour. But, whatever the case, it is only important when we make it important, the person or event. The onus rests with us. The Paralympics' participants have earned that. It is time to make them important. " About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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