Media Coverage of the Paralympic Games
The Paralympic Games are still struggling to match the Olympic Games in terms of media interest. If, for the last twenty years, they have drawn more and more interest from the public and part of the media, the coverage remains very limited and does not allow parasports to emerge.
The 2021 edition in Tokyo confirmed a tendency already noticed during the previous editions: the Paralympic Games are more and more accessible to the French audience. Indeed, France Télévisions has programmed more than a hundred hours of live broadcasting, which is a record for this event. The logical consequence is that nearly 24 million French people have followed these Games, a record as well. And France Televisions did not fail to congratulate itself: we “proposed a media coverage without precedent for these Paralympic Games of Tokyo”.
However, if France Televisions has devoted 100 hours to the Paralympic Games, the Olympic Games have benefited from more than 3 600 hours of live coverage. It is not a gap that separates the media coverage of the two competitions, it is abyssal. The comparison is just as obvious for the front pages of the daily sport newspaper, L’Equipe: the Paralympic Games were only featured once, for the launch of the competition, whereas the Olympic Games were on the front page without interruption for three weeks. It is there and it cannot be explained only by the fact that the Paralympic Games tooke place at the beginning of the school year, a period much busier than the summer in news, either sports or general. How then can we explain this difference?
A lack of interest from the media or the audience?
First and foremost: there is an absence during the Paralympic Games of the strong emotional link created by the participation of “star” athletes with whom the spectators identify and whose successes or failures keep them on the edge of their seats. How many French people discovered canoeing thanks to Tony Estanguet and his performances at the Games? First in 2000, then in 2004, before the disillusion of 2008 and the revenge and the record of 2012. Disciplines largely ignored in ordinary times by the media, such as fencing or judo, arouse passion and record audiences because the national champions shine against athletes or teams known worldwide! The audiences of the handball and volleyball finals this summer, to which French teams took place…and won, also testified to this.
This limited interest of the audience exposes the media wishing to cover more widely the Paralympic Games to an obvious economic risk: a drop in audience or in sales and therefore in revenue, especially advertising ones, against necessarily high costs. We are thus in a situation apparently without any way out, a catch 22 situation : as long as we do not speak more about the Paralympic Games and their stars, we won’t create an emotional link between the spectators and parasports nor consequently an interest for the competition, itself essential for the media to speak more about it.
New types of interest but forgetting the essential, the sport
If parasport does not generate the direct attention it deserves from spectators and the media, it does, however, have new, more indirect forms of interest. Brands, which have taken up the subject for a few years now, have resorted to large-scale advertising campaigns based on the inspiring journeys of people with disabilities to illustrate the values of a brand (such as Toyota during the Super Bowl) or its purpose (AirBnb), while others directly promote inclusion by highlighting their commitment (such as Lego).
This is also the case for political figures: Anne Hidalgo declared during an interview on the occasion of the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games that the 2024 Games would be an opportunity “to be more inclusive and to make transformations“, pointing out the initiatives already initiated to improve accessibility in Paris. And it is also now the governments, like China, which use their successes during the Paralympic Games to show the benefits of their inclusion policy.
For its part, the International Olympic Committee recently launched “WeThe15”, a campaign, in reference to the 15% of people living with a disability on the planet. Planned to last 10 years, this vast project aims to become the largest human rights movement ever created. For its launch, 115 emblematic monuments in 30 countries were covered in purple, the color of disability. The goal was to “transform the lives of people with disabilities”.
In other words, parasport is progressively becoming a communication or soft power tool outside the field of sports competition. If these initiatives are commendable and necessary, they forget the essential. It is by promoting parasport for what it is, sport, and the Paralympic Games for what they are, a competition, that the interest of the audience will progress. Let’s not be mistaken, it is the sport that is a vector of emotion and link, not the communication that we make around it.