Ellen Keane calls for greater respect for Paralympics

by Stephen Findlater

Allianz Paralympic ambassador Ellen Keane pictured at the official announcement of Allianz’ eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rio 2016 bronze medalist Ellen Keane has called for far greater recognition of Paralympic sport which she says is too often “forgotten about”. 

With qualification already assured for Tokyo 2021, the swimmer is training full bore for the main event which is scheduled to begin next August. 

But while discussion of the “hows” and “ifs” the Olympic Games will be contested have filled recent news cycles, the Paralympics has often been tagged on only as an afterthought.  

The Clontarf woman duly reacted to a headline on the widely followed SwimSwam website which struck out the word Paralympics from a quote.

“What the PM actually says is: ‘we are holding the Olympics and Paralympics this summer.’ 

“@swimswamnews could someone explain to me why “and Paralympics” wasn’t included in the headline?”

“It was like ‘aaaagh’; so annoyed,” the three-time Paralympian said on Wednesday morning. 

“The Olympics doesn’t happen on its own; the Paralympics always follows and the more the media say ‘the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics’, the Paralympics is forgotten about or an afterthought which it isn’t. 

“That’s been proven time and again. The numbers who tune in is the same or better; the stadiums are still filled. Why do the media exclude the Paralympics from the headlines?  

“The more they do it, the more it takes away from it being performance sport. It is performance sport for people who happen to have a disability.  

“It takes away from the fact we have to wait four years to compete, that we train day-in, day-out like Olympians do. 

“There are Paralympians in Ireland who don’t know if they are going to Tokyo or not because they haven’t had the chance to compete and qualify just like the Olympians.” 

And she says her disquiet is indicative of a growing call worldwide for greater respect and better buy-in to help tell Paralympic stories.  

Inspiration

While she has recently completed her university thesis and a personal trainer course during lockdown, swimming is the 25-year-olds profession and one through which she is happy to be able to inspire others.

She knows the impact first hand, meeting up with 11-year-old Gemma in Sydney a couple of years ago after the youngster – who was born with a similarly undeveloped arm – cited her as her inspiration.

“The more social media grows, I feel disabled people are getting so sassy online. They have just had it, had enough of people thinking they are incapable of doing things.  

“It is more than sport; it is more than performance sport. It is about trying to encourage people who don’t know about disabilities and to be more inclusive. Give us a chance and we can show you what we can do.  

“That’s what Paralympics is about. It isn’t an event you just go and take part in. It if it was that easy, everyone would do it.  

“It is technical and hard; we have to constantly think outside the box. The more it is excluded the less validation my hard work gets and that is really frustrating. 

“So when they say the Olympics is going to be cancelled, what about the Paralympics? People who support the Paralympics – sponsors like Allianz – do such a good job pushing it but if media don’t get on board to help us tell the story and put it into the spotlight, nothing is going to change.  

“The media need to take responsibility to show we can make a difference, that we can find the next amazing athlete because we have done our job properly and inspired people through Paralympics.” 

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