Sports are exciting. Sports unite. This is especially true for team sports. When people with disabilities and able-bodied persons play sports together, we can rightly call it practiced inclusion. Great examples of this are wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. But what does practiced inclusion in sports really mean? And what about the representative role of the Paralympic Games?
Annika Zeyen has been a paraplegic since her fourteenth birthday. She has always been athletic, so she didn’t want a riding accident to take this away from her. That’s why the first time she came in contact with wheelchair basketball happened during her rehabilitation phase.
From then on, her wheelchair basketball career took off. Today she has broken records as a player and has already participated in over 300 international matches. She currently plays for the BG Baskets Hamburg team. Among her biggest successes is winning the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, which she also owes to her team of course. "What I like about wheelchair basketball is that it is a team sport. You never get bored because it is such a dynamic sport." If you ever saw wheelchair basketball, you know how action packed this sport is. "Many spectators say that wheelchair basketball is often far more exciting than conventional basketball. When the wheelchairs crash into each other, spectators compare them to bumper cars."
This is perhaps the reason why able-bodied people or those who experience minor physical limitations are also interested in this sport. At the national level, even able-bodied athletes can participate in leagues. At the international level, on the other hand, you need to exhibit a minimal disability. Zeyen explains, "A minimal disability is a severe knee injury for example. Our national team includes many female players who used to play conventional basketball and then experienced a severe injury to the knee and were no longer able to play conventional basketball. For them, the wheelchair is a piece of sports equipment; they walk in everyday life."
Seven of the twelve players competing in the Paralympic Games are players of the TSV. Yet Overhage won’t fly to Rio. "The spots are limited. Each year, there are more and more cutbacks. Paralympic sitting volleyball has been cut from originally twelve teams per gender to eight. That’s why it is so difficult to qualify."
Overhage sees one reason for this in the public service broadcasters’ constitutional commitment to provide information as widely and completely as possible. "German public broadcasting stations have not truly fulfilled their commitment for many years. A sports show is no longer a sports show but a ‘football show’. This is very sad but tolerated and government-funded. You just need to take a look at how much money is spent on rights to broadcast football."
What is the point of insisting on more media attention for Paralympic sports when it is ultimately just dictated by public service broadcasters? And how will Paralympic sports continue to evolve if cutbacks dominate the event? Will practiced inclusion soon no longer be a topic if savings measures will also affect amateur sports before too long?
The short answer is yes! Sports like sailing which will no longer be a Paralympic discipline starting in 2017, unsurprisingly no longer fall under the category of "amateur sports". The predominantly club organized, competitive sports practice is subsequently decimated, funding canceled, trainers dismissed and ultimately there will also be no more new talent waiting in the wings. This, in turn, means that the "practiced inclusion" motto is no longer a topic and won’t be in the future.