For 11 days, the world was witness to the wonders of the human spirit.
The London Paralympics was a huge success, not because it sold 2.7 million tickets, the most ever, or that the Paralympics made 10 million pounds more than expected. No, it was a success because an inspired generation of athletes from 166 nations showed in London and the spectators were treated to a world-class sporting event that has as much pride and inspirational stories as the Olympics, maybe more.
Having now attended five summer Paralympics, I have been witness to the stunning advance of athletic performance in every Paralympics sport, smashing Paralympics and World Games records in event after event.
The venues were packed and the crowds were enthusiastic beyond explanation.
Fortunately, the media coverage was the best ever for Great Britain and the commonwealth states, most of the European nations, as well as the Asian nations of Russia, China and Japan, but unfortunately not the U.S.
The three largest teams at the Paralympics were Great Britain with 294, China with 285 and the USA with 223, but NBC, the American company which owns TV rights to the world’s second largest sporting occasion, had decided not to screen a single minute of live coverage of any event.
NBC had a staff of 2,500 for the Olympics; they had 60 for the Paralympics.
British TV aired 400 hours, with 150 of it being live. NBC aired five-and-a-half hours, all pre-recorded with the last 90 minutes being aired a week after the games were over.
Athletes, organizers and a succession of disability rights activists have spoken out against NBC over its lack of coverage of the Paralympic Games.
NBC’s lack of coverage was branded “disappointing” by organizers of the U.S. Paralympic team, and “really, really appalling” by the U.K. Disabled People’s Council.
Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said it was “about time the American broadcasters caught up,” adding “I’m very disappointed for the athletes and I’m also very disappointed for the hundreds of millions of people who live in North America.
If NBC realized the power of the Paralympic Games at the outset, the media on the ground in London would have early on witnessed the amazing reaction of the crowds to the games; events that nobody had heard of, with athletes that were unknown to the crowds, but were sold out. The crowds were passionate and enthralled by the competition and quickly realized that there were other sports heroes beyond Phelps, Lochte, Ennis and Farrah, with personal stories that were always life affirming.
It is a huge shame that U.S. broadcasters chose to pull out on the Paralympics and not help promote the groundswell of enthusiasm for the human spirit that is the fabric of the Paralympics. It is a shame they chose not to inspire disabled children across the nation by showcasing American stars at these games and missed the opportunity to open the eyes of the general public to the fact that the disabled can compete at the highest levels, not only as disabled competitors, but simply as elite athletes. I saw the paradigm shift and it was amazing. Halfway through the games the crowd was coming to see competition with sporting superstars from every country, and did not care that they were in a wheelchair, missing arms and legs, were blind, deformed, paraplegic or quadriplegic. The crowds of the London Paralympics got it, and got it in a big way. There was a huge story told there, a massive human story, one that the U.S. audience has yet to witness.
Wake up, NBC, the world has changed.
Jack Walter is a Santa Monica developer who supports adaptive and rehabilitative sports and programs, with a focus on future Paralympic athletes.