Editor’s Note: Jeremy Opperman is a member of Rotary’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce and a regular contributor to this blog on issues related to disability inclusion.
By Jeremy Opperman, Rotary Club of Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa
Like countless others, I watched, read, and listened in impotent and morbid fascination at the horrors unfolding in Ukraine. But one rather different interview caught my ear, while listening to the BBC.
It was the manager of the Ukrainian winter Paralympic team, still competing in Beijing at the time. Speaking in fluent English, with exhausted clarity and indelible sadness etched into every syllable, he tried to articulate how the team members were feeling about their country literally disintegrating in their absence.
Far beyond the incredulity and outrage at the atrocity of the invasion and war itself, was the equally incredulous notion that they simply could not return to their homeland. Knowing that for many if not most of the team – comprising athletes, coaches, doctors and many fans and support staff – their homes might not exist any longer. How would they even know?
Which made me think about performance under pressure. Most world class athletes perform under pressure of course, pressure of a tough opponent, old injury, hostile crowd, poor weather; you know what I mean.
But how many athletes have to perform while knowing that their country, city, town, village, suburb or homes are literally being devastated at exactly the moment they are supposed to be performing.
I was trying to think of an analogy of what that must be like but realised that no analogy could do it justice.
And, amazingly, their performance is unquestionably excellent as they ranked second in the competition.
Spare a thought for those athletes. Every one of those Paralympians have significant disabilities. To compete in the Paralympics, they have a visual or hearing or physical or psychosocial impairment of some kind.
Notwithstanding their levels of independence, every one of them will have known and needed major support back home, rehab services, schools, accessible transport, assistive devices, prosthetics, technology and service animals not to mention loving, encouraging teaching human support.
Consider just for a minute, what they had to go through in leaving Beijing at the conclusion of the Winter Paralympics on 13 March. They weren’t returning at all. They all, without exception, were going somewhere strange. Hungary? Poland?
It is almost too hard to bear thinking about, but we must.
Jeremy Opperman is a Diversity practitioner and disability equity analyst. www.disabilitydesk.co.za
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