Eli Wolff, just returned from the Paralympic Games in London. He was part of the 2004 and 1996 U.S. Paralympic soccer teams. Wolff helped draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2003 and is still recognized as a leader in the field today. He directs the Sports and Development Project at Brown University, and is the program director for the Inclusive Sports Initiative for the Institute for Human Centered Design.
Despite being a major sporting event, the largest Paralympics in history barely made headlines over the past week despite attracting 4,200 athletes from 164 countries and selling out stadiums for every session before it even began. The U.S. host broadcaster, NBC, decided to air only four hour-long highlights packages on its sports channel, compared to its wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympics. The Paralymics were initiated by a group of British World War II veterans in 1948 and have since grown into an international competition known for its world-class athletes and spirit of inclusivity. We’re joined by Eli Wolff, a former national Paralympic soccer player who helped draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2003 and is still recognized as a leader in the field today. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a major sporting event that received notably little attention in the United States. The largest Paralympics in history barely made headlines here, despite attracting 4,200 athletes from 164 countries, selling out stadiums for every session before it even began. The U.S. host broadcaster, NBC, decided to air only four hour-long highlights packages on its sports channel, compared to its wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympics.
The Paralympics were initiated by a group of British World War II vets in 1948 and has since grown into an international competition known for its world-class athletes and spirit of inclusivity.
For more on the Paralympics, we’re going to turn right now to our guest who has just returned from the Paralympics, and he is in Providence. Eli Wolff is with us. He was a member of the United States Paralympic soccer team in 1996 and 2004. He helped draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2003, is still recognized as a leader in the field today, co-directing Sport and Society Fellowship at Brown University.
We welcome you, Eli Wolff. Talk about what happened in London.
ELI WOLFF: Great, thank you very much for having me.
Yeah, no, London was a very powerful moment, a really benchmark time for thinking about the Paralympics and people with disabilities in sports. And particularly with regard to the U.S., I think it’s sort of a wake-up call. You know, there’s now the moment here to really realize that people with disabilities are the next wave, to see that people with disabilities can be visible within the sports culture, within our society, globally, but also here in the United States. So, you know, coming back, obviously very excited, but also a challenge for us to kind of keep the movement going.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the various sporting events were in London, what we didn’t see, who competed.
ELI WOLFF: Well, the Paralympics, you know, is a range of athletes with physical disabilities and also high-level athletes with cognitive disabilities, as well. And so, the aspect of the Games is to really see all the sports, so 20 sports. And it was amazing. I was just in the stadium two nights ago, 80,000 fans realizing these are athletic performances, athletes reaching their athletic potential, winning and losing, but really about the spirit of the Games. And so, that’s really what it was about. It was a sporting event.
And there were some great performances that were just clearly missed by the U.S. public, because they weren’t able to be visible. And so, I think that’s the chance here is to see that these are athletes, you know, just as we see many male—you know, white male athletes sort of cover a lot of our sports coverage in the United States. And so now there’s an opportunity to see a little bit more diversity, to see that there’s a range of athletic performances that need to be seen, that need to be recognized, so that people with disabilities can go from, you know, pity and stigma to now being seen as being recognized with respect and dignity and actually being able to be athletes. So I think that’s the challenge, and that’s the opportunity.
AMY GOODMAN: The lack of media coverage—NBC had the exclusive. Were you surprised by how little they showed?
ELI WOLFF: Well, I think there’s—that’s the historical piece, and that’s really what this London Games has done. I think there’s—this is the moment here, that it’s the wake-up call for the U.S. Olympic Committee, for the major networks. And so, yes, it was very, very disappointing, you know, for the U.S. not to be where the rest of the world is. And so, now is the chance. I mean, now is the moment to realize that athletes with disabilities can be visible, they can be in the news, they can be on SportsCenter. You know, they can be covered by NBC. And so, I think that’s really what I see happening over the next couple years, is we’re going to see that transformation.
You know, we are the leaders in the United States on disability rights, with the American with Disabilities Act. You know, we have a lot that we’re embracing. But when it comes to the realm of sports, you know, that’s a major challenge to see people with disabilities as being rightfully part of that community, as being athletic, as being just a part of that community. So I think that’s where we have to move toward, and so I’m excited for what’s possible. But it is that wake-up call. So we’re going to have to get on the ball here.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Eli Wolff, very much for joining us from Providence, just back from London from the Paralympics, which wrapped up yesterday in Britain. Eli Wolff is—was part of the 2004 and 1996 U.S. Paralympic soccer teams. He helped draft the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2003.
And that does it for our broadcast. We’ll be on the road for the next month or so. Our Election 2012 Silenced Majority Community Media Tour continues. On Thursday at noon, I’ll be speaking at the Philadelphia Free Library at 1901 Vine Street in Philadelphia. Then to Pittsburgh at the McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University. On Friday, 5:00 p.m., we’ll be in Cleveland at Visible Voice Books, then at 8:00 p.m. at Oberlin, Ohio, the First Church, 106 North Main Street. Hope to see Oberlin students there. On Saturday, we’ll be at Kenyon College in Ohio in Gambier at noon, then at 3:00 p.m. at Columbus, Ohio, at First Unitarian Universal Church, then at 7:00 p.m. at Ohio University in Athens at the Baker Student Center. On Sunday, we’ll be in Cincinnati at the Crosley Telecommunications Center. The tour will continue in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. Check our website, democracynow.org.
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