London 2012 Paralympics – Spectatorship Through the Body

By Jen Turner

The opening week of the London 2012 Paralympic Games has witnessed an array of grit, determination, and World-Record-breaking sport from competitors across the globe.  As I write, Paralympic Team GB are in possession of 19 Gold medals, lying second in the table with 62 medals overall.  With 80,000 spectators at the Opening Ceremony and a predicted 215,000 per day entering Olympic Park, the Paralympics have been as successful in attracting a crowd as the Olympics themselves.  In a BBC report, London’s transport commissioner Peter Hendy said: “We already know the London 2012 Paralympic Games will see the most spectators in its history.”

However, the visual terminology concerning those who come to ‘see’ events has left a sour taste in the mouth of some disabled visitors to the games – a little at odds when we consider the kinds of athletes the Paralympics caters for.  Damon Rose’s BBC blog focuses on the limited commentary available for blind people, both at live events and on television.  Recounting his difficulty following the action at the blind person’s sport of goalball, he writes, “Oh, the irony that the only members of the crowd who can’t enjoy the blind football are those who can’t see”.  Interestingly, Rose also questions the appeal of goalball as a spectator sport for those who can see.  He explains that athletes rely on the sounds of other players and the bell in the ball.  With matches played in silence, the much praised London crowd might find the experience forces them to develop an unusual awareness of senses other than the visual.  However, as Rose discovered – for some, this merely allows the marvel of the Paralympic athletes to resonate.  “I thought the silence was amazing and it was fascinating the way the athletes felt their way across the court,” says Sue Lee, a retired teacher from Chelmsford.

A geographical focus on the sensory experience is provided by Longhurst, Ho and Johnston in their (2008) Area article. Focusing upon how different bodily experiences shape interactions with people and places, the article raises the importance of the body as a research tool.   As the human body is the primary vehicle through which all emotions and worldly interactions occur, its significance in generating and shaping meaningful interactions with place is great.  Thinking about this in relation to the Paralympic Games, how far will the sensory requirements portrayed by the athletes themselves impact upon the able-bodied spectator experience.  What is there to be learned from these alternative bodily experiences?

Longhurst, R., Ho, E. and Johnston, L., (2008) Using ‘the body’ as an ‘instrument of research’: kimch’i and pavlova, Area, 40.2, 208–217

Commuters urged to prepare for Paralympic Games, BBC News, 21 Aug 2012

Blind man watching goalball – silence please, BBC – The Ouch! Blog, 31 Aug 2012

Leave a Reply or Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: