I had the honor of visiting the International Paralympic Committee headquarters in Bonn, Germany, in June, getting a tour of their building and meeting several of the members of the communications team thanks to their English editorial coordinator Ros Dumlao. Ros and I both received paid sports journalism internships through the Association for Women in Sports Media two years apart–mine was in 2010 with the Salt Lake Tribune and hers was in 2012 with USA Swimming–and we’d corresponded solely via social media since 2012 until I met her June.
Her coworkers are from all over, including England, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. Some have worked for BBC and others for national sports organizations in their native country. The passion and care they have for the jobs they do–bringing attention to Paralympic athletes–was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed in a workplace before.
That’s why last week’s decision to award equal payouts to U.S. Paralympians as Olympians resonated with me and the IPC employees I met in June were the first people I thought of other than the Paralympians themselves. Such great news.
The Medal Stand: Thoughts on a landmark decision
By MARLOWE HEREFORD
I read one of the best headlines of the year last Friday.
Upon checking Twitter early in the afternoon, I noticed a tweet from the U.S. Paralympics account that made me immediately stop what I was doing. It read: “Today’s decision by the USOC board of directors places an additional $1.2 million in the hands of 2018 Paralympic medalists. Get all the details on Operation Gold Awards…”
I followed the story link and was filled with joy the more I read. The U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors voted last Friday to increase Operation Gold Awards by as much as 400 percent for U.S. Paralympic athletes. This means Paralympians and Olympians will now receive equal payouts for medal performances. Furthermore, this decision takes effect immediately, and U.S. Paralympians who won medals in February at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea will begin receiving retroactive payments. The U.S. led the medal count at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games with 36 medals.
“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a release by U.S. Paralympics.
Shortly after reading the article, I saw U.S. Paralympian Oksana Masters’ post to Twitter where she thanks the USOC in a teary video for making this decision. She mentions that Paralympians invest in so much equipment to compete in their sports and don’t receive as much support as Olympians, and now this has opened the door for Paralympians to make a living.
I also wondered what the International Paralympic Committee, whose headquarters I visited in Bonn, Germany, in June, thought of this decision. I soon found my answer on IPC Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Craig Spence’s Twitter. He quote tweeted Masters’ video and wrote: “If you want to know what it means to a @USParalympics athlete to now earn equal payouts for medal performances as US Olympians then watch this. Well done USOC @USOC_CEO a tremendous move.”
I don’t claim to be an expert on Paralympic sports, and I’m ashamed to say I don’t know as much about the Paralympic movement as I do the Olympic movement. Beyond Hunter Woodhall, Jessica Long, Mikey Brannigan and Masters, I can’t name very many Paralympians off the top of my head. I’ve tried to educate myself more and more each year, however, since Vancouver 2010, and I’ve always wished there were as many ways to watch Paralympic sports as there are to watch Olympic sports. I’ve kept up as best I can via social media, but it is of course no substitute for watching live. Having met members of the IPC in June, I’ve seen how much heart goes into the Paralympic movement. It was a passion unlike anything I’ve ever come across in any sports organization. They exist to make the world more aware of Paralympic athletes, celebrate them and create more opportunities for them.
What a moment for U.S. Paralympic athletes. It’s been a long time coming, and I hope it is the beginning of much more support and recognition for them.