Society

The view from Billinudgel

The Commonwealth Games: inspired integration
The level of inclusion on the Gold Coast has been a breakthrough

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With the best will in the world, I started pretty lukewarm about the Commonwealth Games.

I’m keen about sport, especially cricket, but individual pursuits seldom excite me. Let’s face it, while the Commonwealth has its stars, without the United States, China, Russia and almost all of Europe and South America, the festival has a slightly second-rate feel about it.

It’s always nice when Australia wins big, especially against England (and of course New Zealand), but the medals hardly compare in kudos with those of the Olympics.

But having said that, after a couple of nights I found myself getting sucked in by Channel 7’s coverage. It has been unashamedly partisan, of course. There have been legitimate complaints about the jingoism that has meant every Australian competitor is to be televised at the expense of everyone else, but presumably that is what the backers, the sponsors and, yes, a large majority of the viewers want, so there is no point in whingeing about it.

And to their credit, both the presenters and more importantly the athletes have resisted any tendency to gloat; there has been understandable triumphalism, but little if any braggadocio, let alone sledging. Obviously there have been controversies and glitches, but none of the major scandals that have bedevilled so many other sports recently. So two cheers for a start.

But for me the clincher was the level of integration of events for able-bodied athletes and para-athletes, in the same program. This has meant that the games have had a texture that has not been there in the past. We have seen inclusive, even human overtones that have transcended the usual pageant of brawn, which can and should be admired, but seldom produces the emotion and empathy we have seen in the last week and a half.

Much of the credit for the breakthrough should be given to the great wheelchair athlete and tireless advocate, the incomparable Kurt Fearnley, who has worked for many years to secure the change. But it has come about not only through sport, but through reforms in Australian society for which we can all take a modicum of praise.

It was the government of Julia Gillard, boosted by Bill Shorten, who instigated the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it is the current government that is dealing with the cost and pursuing its aims. And as a result, facilities – both public and private – have improved immeasurably, but more significantly, attitudes have changed.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but much of the stigma and ignorance about disability and its limits, both real and imagined, is dissipating, and the concept of opportunity rather than handicap is now almost the norm: we now have far more heroes than victims.

It is now many years ago that Andrew Denton confronted the International Year of Disabled Persons with the alternative slogan: International Year of the Patronising Bastard. At the 2018 games, we do not need it. We can report progress and my enthusiasm has returned.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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