Instead of simply a celebration of perfectly presented superbeings 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.
With the best will in the world, I started pretty lukewarm about the Commonwealth Games.
I’m keen about sport, especially cricket, but individual races seldom excite me and 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 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 scandal that have bedeviled so many other sports recently. So two cheers for a start.
But for me the clincher was the inspired decision to integrate the events for the able-bodied and the disabled into the same program. This has meant that instead of simply a celebration of perfectly presented superbeings 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.
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. It has come about not only through sport, but through reforms in Australian society to 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 was 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 even more.
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 not many years ago that another fervent supporter of the program, Andrew Denton, confronted the International Year of the Disabled 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.