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Reflective Practice: International and


Multidisciplinary Perspectives
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Disability [sport] and discourse: stories


within the Paralympic legacy
a

Anthony Bush , Michael Silk , Jill Porter & P. David Howe

Department of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social


Sciences, University of Bath, UK
b

School of Sport, Exercise and Health Science, Loughborough


University, Loughborough, UK
Published online: 07 Oct 2013.

To cite this article: Anthony Bush, Michael Silk, Jill Porter & P. David Howe (2013) Disability
[sport] and discourse: stories within the Paralympic legacy, Reflective Practice: International and
Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 14:5, 632-647, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2013.835721
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2013.835721

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Reective Practice, 2013


Vol. 14, No. 5, 632647, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2013.835721

Disability [sport] and discourse: stories within the Paralympic


legacy
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Anthony Busha*, Michael Silka, Jill Portera and P. David Howeb


a
Department of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bath,
UK; bSchool of Sport, Exercise and Health Science, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, UK

(Received 14 June 2013; nal version received 9 August 2013)


This paper aims to encourage critical reection on what are key and pressing
social and political issues surrounding the Paralympics Games. The focus of the
paper is personal narratives of six current elite Paralympic athletes who have
participated in at least one Paralympic Games. In response to critical stimuli presented in the form of ve unnished stories, the self-reexive, personal, compelling narrative reections of these individuals were (re)presented for each of
the stories as a composite narrative. The stories expose questions over fear, despair, freedom, hope, love, oppression, hatred, hurt, terror, (in)equality, peace,
performance and impairment. To really learn from London and reect for Rio,
we need academic work that can understand sport, sporting bodies and physical
activity as important sites through which social forces, discourses, institutions
and processes congregate, congeal and are contested in a manner that contributes
to the shaping of human relations, subjectivities, and experiences in particular,
contextually contingent ways.
Keywords: reective practice; Paralympics; cultural politics; physical cultural
studies; unnished story

Introduction
As the Paralympic Games transition from pastime to global spectacle (Howe, 2008)
the prole of Paralympic athletes has increased. However, the potential impact of
the Games and its legacy as a powerful agent for positive social change remains a
topic that necessitates critical excavation. Within this paper, we aim to extend previous research in this area (Bush & Silk, 2012; Howe, 2011; Silva & Howe, 2012)
and make sense of the cultural politics surrounding the experiences of both elite athletes with impairments who competed in London 2012 and those involved in the
media production of the games. We aim to encourage critical reection on what are
key and pressing social and political issues that are concerns of the Paralympic
Movement, namely: the representation of ability, disability and impairment in media
coverage of London 2012; legacy and facilities beyond the boundaries of elite sport
provision; the intersection of discourses of Paralympic disability with class, gender,
racialized and sexualized social relations; and, what we term Paralympic prestige
hierarchies that position superhumans or supercrips (see Howe, 2011) as
*Corresponding author. Email: A.J.B.Bush@bath.ac.uk
2013 Taylor & Francis

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normalized yet serve to further marginalize the disposable disabled bodies who
exist at the extremities and further away from the potential of cyborgication.
To elicit these reections, we draw on an adaptation of the unnished story
(VanWynsberghe, 2001) methodology and (re)present the personal narrative reections of elite Paralympic athletes for each of the stories as a composite narrative.
These composite narratives provide the structure for our discussion, and each of
these are supplemented by our post-conversation reections and questions (following the work of Bush & Silk, 2012 and Lee, Shaw, Chestereld, & Woodward,
2009), which will be represented in boxes at the end of each composite narrative.
Although the Paralympics in London 2012 provided the empirical site for this paper,
we suggest that if we are to Learn from London and further enhance knowledge
for all individuals with impairment then broader questions beyond measures of
sporting success, ticket sales and viewing gures need to be critically reected on.
This paper is one small contribution towards furthering our understandings through
raising important questions that address the cultural politics of the Paralympics and
how this relates to the everyday lived experience of disability.
Unnished stories: methodology
This project has sought to draw upon the personal reections of elite Paralympic
athletes. We purposively sampled six current elite Paralympic athletes who had participated in at least one Paralympic Games (London 2012 or Beijing 2008). As a
collective, they have won ve Paralympic and eight World Championship Medals.
Three of the participants have cerebral palsy (one of whom also has a visual impairment), one a lower limb amputee, and, two upper limb amputees. Broadly speaking,
we deployed a qualitative research technique called personal narratives to allow us
to use participants tales self-stories (Denzin, 1989a, p. 186) of their personal
experiences as the information base for the research (VanWynsberghe, 2001). These
personal reections were induced in response to critical stimuli on key and pressing
social and political issues of concerns within the Paralympic movement. Invoking
the thoughts of Denzin (1989a, 1989b), these self-storied responses allowed our participants, in the context of a specic set of experiences, to tell self-stories.
Our approach centred on an adaptation of the unnished story
(VanWynsberghe, 2001) methodology; a unique and useful narrative-based method
for eliciting the voices and lived experiences of elite Paralympic athletes. The
unnished story provided an interpretive device that allowed participants to
embody a radical self-reexive identity as they reected in personally relevant
ways to critical stimuli designed to evoke compelling narrative reections. The
critical stimuli were presented to the participants in the form of four unnished stories co-created by the authors in response to important pressing social and political
issues that surround the Paralympic Games; these stories were titled, the superhumans, the Paralympic gloss, legacy and the mirror. In essence, the participants were
invited to nish the story and were informed that they only needed to respond to
those stories to which they felt drawn and that their responses could be as long or as
short as they wanted them to be.
We were, of course, mindful of the intimate relationship between both the
research process, in this case the unnished story methodology and the (re)presentation of the data as a textual product. The process of (re)presentation our journey
as researchers from the context of discovery to the context of presentation (Plath,

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1990, p. 376) needed to be attentive to the verisimilitude of our textual product.


Paraphrasing Markula and Silk (2011), verisimilitude refers to how well the textual
product resonates with those who read it, including our participants, and also with
those readers who do not share the experiences the impaired body disabled by
society described in the textual product. We (re)presented the participants
responses to each of the unnished stories as a composite narrative (see Wertz,
Nosek, McNiesh, & Marlow, 2011); that is, we used the responses to create a composite account of the participants responses. Importantly, these composite narratives
are (re)productions, not a simple re-telling, that involved analytic interpretation, a
process inuenced by both our own self-reexive (and multiple) researcher positions
and the self-reexive accounts (and in some cases additional commentaries) provided by participants.
Finished stories: tales from the (sports) eld
Story 1: The Superhumans
Seb, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy was excited over the wall-to-wall coverage of
the Paralympic Games in the summer of 2012 on Channel 4. He had been seduced
by the award winning Superhuman promotional advert and watched all the spin-offs
such as Teenage Superhumans. Yet, as the coverage progressed, and he watched the
backstories of shark bites, train tracks, terrorism and war, and saw the amazing and
inspiring feats of amputees with technologically sophisticated prosthetics, he began
to wonder where he and people like him were. Over breakfast following the closing ceremony of the event, he questioned his mum on why the coverage had focused
on heroic injured servicemen, victims of terror and on those who had the very best
technology to make them almost normal, and sadly wondered why there was so little focus on those with disabilities like him who do not utilize such amazing looking
carbon bre blades. He wondered, as the coverage nished, what impact
Paralympic coverage would have on his everyday experiences of
how others would treat him. Had the coverage really impacted him; had this
impacted the dominant view of disability sport? Had the lazy media coverage not
just presented a narrow, selected, view of the Paralympics and ignored altogether the
complex explanations of what an impairment such as cerebral palsy actually is and
what living with it is like? The coverage was probably easier to produce and less
burdened with realpolitik when those who are best known in this eld and who are
often wheeled in as expert commentators are high-prole amputees. His mum tried
to put a positive perspective on the Paralympic coverage, she told him he had been
lucky to watch it and that society would sit up and take notice of some disabilities,
and that in time this could lead to wider acceptance and understanding. But Seb still
felt uneasy and he, nor his classmates, saw any link between the amazing feats seen
on the silver screen and the life of disabled athletes without amputations. He wondered about those impaired bodies that were not even in the Paralympics and where
they tted in the grand scheme of things. More so, he wondered now what people
might think of him. How would the public perceive him? His story was not heroic,
he had not been blown up in a eld in Afghanistan, hed been born with his impairment. Hed already sensed the disappointment lurking behind peoples eyes when he
told them he was not training for a future Paralympics. People would now expect

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this, yet he was more worried about the day-to-day struggles of being disabled.
Would people care about this now, or think him lazy and not making the most of
himself. Even if he did decide to try a sport, he was not sure where to go or what
local support or facilities existed. Worst still, in Sebs eyes, was the feeling that he
did not belong to a post-Paralympic understanding of disability, he was not physically active, let alone training as an elite athlete, and he most certainly was not in
possession of a cool and inspirational backstory; then again, he wondered, did that
matter, if he was the star of the next Paralympic Games, surely the broadcasters
could make one up!
BOX 1
Henry Giroux (2008) has convincingly argued that the symbiotic relationship
between neoliberalism and militarization has become normalized in this distinct
post 9/11 historical moment. The supposed logics of neoliberalism produce a
growing culture / spectacle of fear and surveillance at home; a central component of which being the discursive process (Giroux, 2004) of militarization.
That is, rather than the hard-core military industrial complex weaponry,
increase in army size, military technologies, and so on what is of interest is
how the values of militarization have become part of the sporting popular; neoliberalism and militarism produce particular views of the world and mobilize an
array of pedagogical practices in a variety of sites in order to legitimate their
related modes of governance, subject positions, forms of citizenship and rationality (Ferguson & Turnbull, 1999). Thus, as a culture of force that serves as a
powerful pedagogical force that shapes our everyday lives and memories
(Giroux, 2004; 2008; Neweld, 2006), the Paralympics, as neoliberal spectacle,
was a text through which commodities were deployed with the power to shape
national identities and subjectivities (Giroux, 2000; Hall, 1997). In particular, it
was a text that utilized sport to convey dominant militarized/securitized, and
highly public, pedagogies (see also Kelly, 2012; King, 2008; Silk, 2012) that
served to shape our understandings of sport, disability and wider social issues.
Moreover, given the commodication/mediatization of the impaired body, this
creates a hierarchy of impairment (heroic returning soldiers and terror victims
over often infantilization or near invisibility of those furthest from cyborgication) (see Purdue & Howe, 2013).
Question: How does the commodication/militarization of disability change our
understandings of disability/athletes with disabilities? Does this culture of force
exacerbate what are already existent hierarchies of disability? How close is normalcy to superhumanity? And how does this impact upon how we conceive of
high-performing impaired athletes and the ways in which we govern, manage
and coach such athletes? Following Batts and Andrews (2011), the new subjectivity of the elite soldier/athlete illustrates how, as a symbol of both military and
sporting constituencies, the body of the soldier/athlete is far from benign and
apolitical; it is a malleable site upon which contemporary cultural meanings and
political demands are inscribed and mobilized. Does this engage us in a form of
corporeal agging that deects attention away from the devastating consequences of war and the legitimation of British (and US) imperialism?

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Story 2: The Paralympic gloss?


Louise glided through the Olympic park, marvelling at the smooth asphalt and the
amazing journey she had taken to Stratford that day. People on the train looked her
in the eye, spoke to her, treated her, as well, normal. She marvelled at the emotions
of winning and losing, the amazing athletic achievements she experienced and the
mind-blowing music and spectacle of the closing ceremony (yet, she wondered why,
given how inclusive the space was, there were not more wheelchair spectators). As
she left Olympic park, she was buzzing, never having experienced such an inclusive
and accessible space. On the train home, among friendly locals, she read about the
performances, about sporting ambitions of people just like her, of training, of competition, and wondered what it would be like to compete in such a place. As she
arrived at her destination, a few hours outside of London, yet a world away from
the Olympic Park, her buzz quickly diminished. Unable to access the lift (the station
was now closed, it was late), she had to wait in the creeping autumn night for a
security guard to help her leave the station. Another wait for a wheelchair-friendly
taxi and she eventually arrived home. Deated, she turned on the news, quickly
turning the channel after watching another story about hate crimes against the
disabled. Despairing she opened the post that she had missed that morning, and
went to bed heavy hearted after discovering in the ofcial looking letter her
disability benets had been cut. The next morning, she awoke, her mood buoyed by
the bright pictures depicting the event she had been at the previous day, yet, as she
turned on the news, she saw another story about cuts to services for disabled
people. She wondered
legacy, what legacy, and threw the TV controls across the room. All the
Paralympic bubble had left her with was a memory, one as distant as possible from
her everyday realities. A few days later, she found out she had been one of the lucky
ones; some friends had not been able to get home at all, others were forced to stay
on the train well past their station so they could disembark at a platform with disabled facilities, while others still could not even get tickets given the limited number
of wheelchair user-friendly tickets available in the stadium. She listened with a
knowing, wry smile to her able-bodied friends who had been to one of the Olympic
football matches complain about their train journeys; they really did not have a clue.
Her reality was that the Paralympics had absolutely no effect on her life beyond the
memories of that day. Maybe she was imagining it, but for a few weeks after the
event, people did seem to treat her with a little more respect and were slightly less
patronising. Maybe that was what she wanted to feel? But, a month or so later, she
continued to butt against physical barriers and attitudes fuelled by government rhetoric of lazy and underserving benet recipients. As any potential benets afforded by
the Games unravelled, she wondered about the politicians making these harsh decisions; had they really thought about the damage they could be doing, were they
using the success of the Paralympics as a way of getting people to think that all disabled people had the potential to be amazing athletes? Louise scoffed at the idea,
only a small minority of able-bodied people actually took part in or enjoyed sport,
so why should disabled people be any different? The criteria of proper disability
had clearly not been thought out, if the ability to walk 200 m deemed you not disabled enough then only a tiny number of people in the UK would be able to keep
their benets. Louise did not know how she would be able to cope if she had to get

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another job to make up for her lost benets, she knew it would stress and tire her
out completely, and she wondered if the reward of winning felt the same if you were
too exhausted to even smile. As her memories of that great day began to wane, she
realized that the temporal and spatial bubble of the Paralympic park an amazing
space in which everything and everyone was so different, a world of escape was
nothing more than fantasy; a spectacular and seductive veil, a Paralympic version of
Willy Wonkas chocolate factory, a glossy bubble that required nothing more than a
wheel spoke to pop and reveal all that lay beyond the golden gates of the Olympic
Park.
BOX 2
Under the aegis of neoliberal economic and political rationalities, and fully in
line with market-led approaches to regeneration, the physical site of the Games
was part of a new epoch in the material (re)formation of increasingly differentiated urban landscapes into multifaceted environments designed for the purpose
of encouraging consumption oriented capital accumulation (Boland, 2010;
Harvey, 2001; Judd & Simpson, 2003; MacLeod, 2002). In a context in which,
paraphrasing Debord (1967, p. 169), the city is literally at the point of consuming
itself, our participants explored the uneasy juxtapositions between those served
by capital space (Harvey, 2001) during the temporal/spatial moment of the summer of 2012 and the sharply differentiated external (urban) landscape (Judd,
1999). The material and symbolic representation of place underpinned by the
market-led logics of spectacle projected the Paralympic park, the city and
indeed its homogenous (if undened) populous as a harmonious, diverse and plural space/citizenry of opportunity devoid of contemporary antagonisms (Davidson & Wyly, 2012). Inclusion, access, security, equality, diversity, safety and
opportunity were the buzzwords of the glossy Paralympic bubble. But, these
material experiences and discursive representations of a space of elective belonging a fantastical geographical utopia performs a terrifying and fetishistic politics (Whittaker, 2011). For the Paralympic bubble offers but a sophisticated
facade that belies structural inequalities in the contemporary cityscape/nation,
manifest in a dehumanizing array of benets cuts for the disabled (e.g. the personal independence payment replacing the disability living allowance, welfare
reform), polarized labour markets (such as the WCA, tness-to-work test),
extreme economic disparities, the increasing gap between the ways in which
(selected) Paralympians are viewed (superhuman) and how other disabled people
are viewed (benet scroungers), the intersections between disability, age and
ethnicity, or indeed, and perversely given Box 1 above, the growing concerns
surrounding ex-servicemen, mental health issues and homelessness. These stories
of the spatial and ephemeral escape offered by the Paralympic Park made visible
bifurcations the private consumer and the public recipient; the civic stimulant
and the civic detriment; the socially valorized and the socially pathologized.
It is crucial that such visibility does not operate as some form of ocular
authoritarianism through which the pernicious, discursively based subjectication
of the degenerate/impaired body, ultimately provides the justication for its systematic evisceration. Rather, such stark differentiations need to be bought to the
fore stories about impairment and despair, injustice, inequality, alienation,

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poverty and so forth must be told. Coalitions must be formed to make these
individual and private concerns part of the public consciousness.
Question: It may be that the success of the Paralympics and of certain Paralympians may be a space through which to equate disability with the Paralympics,
but care must be taken. As academics interested in social justice, impairment and
human rights, is it our responsibility to ensure such stories are heard relational to
dominant narratives and to foster spaces/sites/conditions that aid to bringing
voices together to create meaningful social change? Surely this lesson from London must be one which forms a central component of an academic agenda for
Rio 2016.

Story 3: Legacy?
Rachael was on a crest of a wave after the summer. After achieving A*A*A* in her
A level exams she had secured her place at one of the highest ranked universities in
the country. Her teenage years had been focused on her academic prowess, and
now this aspiration had become a reality with an unconditional offer to study at a
top-ranked university. To top it all, the Greatest Show on Earth had been in London, and Rachael found herself glued to the wall-to-wall Olympic coverage offered
by the BBC and the Paralympic coverage aired on Channel 4. She really felt like
she had watched all of the 2500 hours of live Olympic coverage and the full 150
hours of live Paralympic coverage. Rachael was never very good at sport, or at
least she thinks that she would not be any good. Rachaels wheelchair is symbolic of
difference, and this difference has been with her for as long as she can remember.
When growing up, she cannot recall ever being taken to any of the sports clubs that
all her friends had attended. She had avoided playing sport for as long as she could
remember and would always make the point of having to do something else or be
somewhere else when her friends engaged in sporting activities and this made
her sad as she longed to play with her friends. Even at school, her excuses not to
do physical education classes were never questioned and she was always excused to
work on her academic subjects. Her PE teachers appeared to her as either ignorant,
untrained or too busy to really care. However, Rachael had read with interest
about the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. London 2012 sought to
inspire a generation and Rachael had denitely been inspired. Rachael had
really been amazed at the specialized equipment on display at London 2012, particularly the racing wheelchairs and running blades, that is available for her to
attempt the amazing feats she had witnessed in the summer. Now her day chair
would not be a barrier to taking part. She had also meticulously done her homework on the facilities and sports on offer at university. At last, nothing could now
stop Rachael from participating with all the new friends she would make at university, and she wondered whether she might discover a sport for which she possesses
an as yet untapped potential for elite level performance
so Rachael set about contacting sports coaches and lecturers as well as the sports
association at the university. She quickly found that there were a lot of people very
interested in trying to help but that they did not really have any specialized knowledge nor know what to recommend she tried. She followed up with the British Pa-

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ralympic Association who had been holding talent ID days at the university and she
hoped she would nd someone with the expertise required to advise her. Whilst she
found the staff at the British Paralympic Association very helpful and willing to
direct her to coaches who might offer some support, she was annoyed to discover
that the programme that the BPA had undertaken prior to the Games had been discontinued. She thought this a massive opportunity that had been wasted, and questioned the short-term outlook and the quest for medals over participation.
Eventually she stumbled on a maverick coach who had no ofcial university status, but ran a training group out of the sports facilities. Despite not being part of the
system, he was able to get her doing some basic activities. She started to enjoy the
sessions, the dedication of this inspirational yet isolated coach, and she found it easy
to t in, train and make friends with the rest of the group. She even started to feel
healthy, t and better about herself than ever before; for sure she was never going to
make it to Rio, nor did she really want to, but she did feel as if she had found a little
bit more of herself in the dark and gloomy corners of the sparkling and spectacular
university sports facilities. She began to imagine how she might feel about herself, if
this type of opportunity existed during her schooling, but soon came to the realization
that such opportunities are not part of any system (and denitely not part of the
school system) and rely on isolated and dedicated individuals willing to put in the
time and effort to provide opportunities for people like her. Indeed, there were other
groups, ofcial groups, on the track who were annoyed that disabled athletes were
taking up track time and she was also concerned about the lack of respect her coach
had from other coaches and able-bodied athletes. Despite this, in fact in part because
of the trivial and dismissive attitudes of the real athletes, she ploughed on.
Yet, there was one barrier she could not overcome: the massive cost of getting
hold of a racing wheelchair. If she had been a few years older, she would have beneted perhaps from the pre-Games boom, when national governing bodies had budget
lines for racing chairs for up and coming athletes. Alas, she had missed that boat,
this funding had all but dried up after the Games, and sponsorship deals had all but
disappeared totally. So, she fell out of the group, unable to progress anymore
beyond the basic activities that the coach could offer. Demoralized and depressed,
the summer wave crashed, all the worse given the glimpse she had of what being
physically active could provide, could mean. She lost her motivation for her academic studies and life in general, and began to hate the body, and wheelchair, in
which she felt trapped. She was angry; just because she had a disability, why should
she feel trapped; why should she not feel as if she belonged in the sports facilities
as much as anyone else?
BOX 3
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy is being driven by a
rich variety of organizations. A central tenet of the governments 2012 legacy is
to encourage the whole population to be more physically active. Indeed, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) regard one of the biggest obstacles to future
success in Paralympic sport as being the strength of grassroots involvement and
the number of people playing sport at community level. There are multiple reasons why disabled people face barriers to participating in sport, for example,
equipment costs, accessibility, transportation and perceptions on coaching expertise. In addition, disabled people who wish to coach face barriers such as lack of

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accessible training resources, opportunities to practice or appropriate coach mentors. Figures published by Sport England (2013) reveal that 15.3 million people
are playing sport once a week, every week. This represents an increase of 1.4
million in comparison with 2005 when London won the bid to host the Olympic
and Paralympic Games. According to Sport England, the legacy of the Games is
being maintained, with 750,000 more people playing sport in 2012 compared
with 2011 and six months on, despite the coldest March for 50 years, growth of
530,000 has been maintained. Sport Englands latest Active People Survey identies that 1.7 million disabled people played sport once a week in 2012, representing an increase of 353,100 compared with 2005. Beyond these headline
gures, this number highlights that in excess of 80% of people with a long-term
limiting illness or impairment do not partake in sport once a week. There is no
question that coaches hold the key to unlocking some of the challenges faced by
disabled people in participating in sport. Yet, to do so requires a view beyond a
narrow conception of coaching and coach preparation programmes that are
purely about performance. Such a reductionist view simplies the practice of
coaching to be about motivating and organizing participants and then systematically applying methods to make them better at a sport. In reality, coaching is a
complex, contextual, dynamic, relational and pedagogical activity and to understand the everyday lives of coaches we need to challenge traditional denitions
of what it means to be a coach. A coach might act as a friend, pseudo-parent,
taxi driver, fundraiser, social worker, administrator, innovator, pedagogue, biomechanist, nutritionist and much, much more (Bush & Silk, 2010; Bush, Silk,
Andrews, & Lauder 2013). Claude Levi-Strauss (1966) used the French word
bricoleur to describe a handyman or handywoman who makes use of the tools
available to complete a task. The concept of coach as bricoleur is one that could
be useful in helping frame the reality of what it means to be a coach and therefore
facilitate a much more inclusive environment for sporting participation among
disabled populations. Coaching, and coach education needs to move beyond dualisms elite/participation, able bodied/disabled, male/female, child/adult, motivated/unmotivated, and competition/fun to allow coaches to engage with a
multitude of different populations. Such a reconceptualization breaks down the
taken for granted notion that to work with particular groups (such as Paralympic
athletes) then it is assumed that you need to have specialist knowledge and skills
to be able to do this effectively. Coaches get pigeon-holed or labelled as participation coaches or coaches of children, athletes with a disability or elite athletes. The
result of these dualisms is a compartmentalized approach to coach preparation
programmes and the output of these programmes being coaches who feel comfortable (competent) / uncomfortable (not competent) in differing contexts working, or in many cases not working, with different groups of participants.
Questions: What can we do to ensure that as many barriers to participation are
removed for disabled participants? What can the organizations tasked with driving the London 2012 Games legacy do to help remove these barriers to participation? Where, we might ask, are all the coaches with a disability? Should we /
policy makers rethink and erase these taken-for-granted dualisms that frame the
practice of sports coaching and the education of our coaches? How might the
evolution of our understanding of coaching (for example, coach as bricoleur)

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facilitate the coaching environment for those individuals with impairment? How
can the coaching workforce be enriched by increasing the number of coaches
with impairment?

Story 4: The mirror


Alex surveyed herself in her bedroom. The long mirror, festooned with medals
hanging over the frame, seemed to betray her. This time last week, she had stood
there, in full GB kit, medal around her neck and saw looking back a condent,
young and glowing female; a victorious member of a squad that had out-performed
even their own wildest expectations, a victorious and sexy sportswoman (at least,
she had been voted as being in the top 5 sexiest Paralympians). Tonight, however,
looking back at her was the disabled kid from the wrong part of the estate; echoes
from the daily taunts from the schoolgirls she used to walk past from the posh
school to get back home. Glory had been eeting. She tried to focus on the reection
of a sexy young female with a disability, but the reection looking back was of a
tired, taunted and lost individual. She saw a sad disabled athlete/girl, one who
knew that tomorrow she would resume the quest for work, for love, for the normal
life those other schoolgirls seemed to have. She looked closely, all she could see
was her disability, all she could see were how others saw her. The mirror
showed her how other people saw her, people who did not know her and did not
think about what it must be like to be her. She smiled, with a realization that she did
not need people like that; there were plenty of people who knew the real her and
that should be enough. Yet somehow, sadly, it was not enough. She did not have the
resources to carry on as an athlete; in any case, despite her youth, London was
always going to be her swansong and her insecurities were heightened given the
now distant intensity of the last few weeks, not to mention the dedication and energy
expended in the build-up. She sighed, and pushed her boobs up to feel sexy; she
turned around to check our her bum, but she did not see staring back at her the 3rd
hottest Team GB Paralympian. No, all she saw was the impairment; no expensive
thong or push-up bra was going to be able to hide that. Why was she feeling like
this, why now? Just last week she was a champion, part of the golden heartbeat of
the nation. The newspaper that had provided her with these tiny garments had absolutely made her feel good about herself, strong, sexy and all woman. Had it all
been worth it? Had this been a passport to a normal life, and if this is what a normal life was, is that what she wanted? Did she want to be like those normal girls?
As the light outside changed, a shadow cast over the mirror. Perhaps this is what all
female athletes feel when they retire she thought; a life as a shadow of your former
self in which nothing would ever resemble the buzz and excitement of lining up and
representing your nation/being the belle of the nation. Maybe this is what athletic
retirement feels like? After all, being an athlete is not a qualication or substitute for
an education, it is just merely an experience. But for her, it had been so much more
than just that, it was meant to have been an opportunity; one that replaced nishing
exams at school, gave her an escape from the cards she had been dealt and the
choices she had made in playing those cards, and one that had elevated her to the
podium.

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Now, that was that, closed. She was back where she started. No education, no
employment, no skills, lonely, desiring attention, companionship, friendship and
acceptance. As she turned from the mirror, she caught the distant sounds from the
nice part of town, of normal girls just younger than her returning from a night out
without a care in the world. She sighed again, covering her body with an old dressing gown, real life and very real struggles would begin tomorrow; to embrace that
struggle, to succeed as a disabled woman, she needed to shake off the temporary
persona of a simultaneously celebrated and pathologized Paralympian.
BOX 4
Despite signicant biological and psychosocial gains in our understandings of
sexuality in the context of disability, there remains a common sense (albeit mythical) view that persons with disabilities are sexually disenfranchised by a culture
that perceives them as asexual beings (see Milligan & Neufeld, 2001; Shakespeare, Gillespie-Sells, & Davies, 2002). Indeed, Tepper (2000) argued that the
notion of sexual pleasure within the disability studies agenda is all but missing.
Such invisibility of sexual pleasure/impaired bodies rubs against the display and
sexualization of (selected, commodied) disabled bodies through the London
2012 Paralympic spectacle and indeed the all too familiar, yet equally problematic, almost banal and normalized trivialization, marginalization and sexualization
of the female athlete (cf. King, 2013; Linder, 2011; Murray, 2012). This raises a
number of critical questions: are these bodies stylized representations of disability for mainstream consumption? Were such representations merely consumed as
exotic and erotic or did they act to change perceptions of the intersectionalities between gender, sexuality and impairment? Of course, further research is
needed both with regard to the long-term legacy of the sexualization of the disabled body, and indeed with regard to how those with differing forms of impairment differentially experience sexual images and the subsequent impact on
mental health and well-being (see Hine, 2011). Further, and with the relationship
between disability and mental disorders, in particular depressive disorder being
well established, especially when disability correlates with nancial difculties,
lack of employment, being unmarried and being female (see Meltzer et. al.,
2012), we can begin to explore the concerns raised when one is elevated as part
of an ephemeral national narrative and subsequently discarded once the circus
moves on/the limits of the body are reached. Indeed, transitioning out of an athletic career, disabled or not, brings with it a range of psychological and emotional difculties, not limited to depression, easting disorders, decreased selfcondence and substance abuse (see Lally, 2007, for a comprehensive review).
Indeed, Thomas and Ermler (1988) argued that there exist specic moral imperatives for institutions to provide support for athletes to aid with transition to the
after-sport life. Such issues are even more important when, taking into account
Box 1, those selected and celebrated post-militarized bodies, already subject to
career transitions and with a higher potential for emotional and psychological difculties, that acted as doubly-emblematic representatives of nation in this post-9/
11 / Paralympic moment.
Questions: The intersections between class, age, gender, disability, and sexuality
as well as other categorizations we have not explored in this paper, such as

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ethnicity, religion and so on speak to a number of important considerations


related to the management of athletes with impairments, preparation for life
after athletics (even more so given the worrying links between employability/
disability), and emotional and psychological disorders that may result. We wonder, have such issues been thought through? Are Paralympic athletes (or for that
matter, many elite athletes) prepared to return to normal life? Are systems and
structures in place (at Paralympics GB, National Governing Bodies) that are able
to deal with the transition out of athletics and the subsequent concerns over
depression, suicide and other cognitive, behavioural and emotional disorders?
Further, how are sexualized images of athletes with impairments taken up? Are
these exotic or erotic, celebrated or mocked, and what impact do they have on
the lives of young women (with impairment) and how they see their own bodies /
sporting participation?

Concluding thoughts
We were surprised and often shocked by the ways in which the participants
nished our stories. Moreover, these were Paralympic athletes, many of whom
medalled and who have perhaps been most touched by, and beneted from, the
Paralympic gloss; yet their heartfelt and often personally inspired critical self-reections offer a glimpse behind the dazzling spectacle, inviting us instead into stories of
depression, illness, suicide, glamour, sexualization, pathologized/celebrated bodies,
of alienation, isolation, disposability, militarization, neoliberal commodication, of
sterile and sanitized bubbles of inclusivity/exclusivity, of desire, of politics, legacy,
hierarchies of disability, of acceptance, failure, success, marginalization, depression
and isolation. We only hope that in the construction of these composite stories that
we have done their full responses justice. Any errors or misrepresentations are our
own. What is abundantly clear from these stories is that the biophysical disability is
more than ever a matter of socio-political dynamics (Grue, 2011). The 2012 Paralympics sat at the intersection of often complementary vectors; a set of interests and
social forces economic, political, technological and social that coalesced to make
the event understandable. Embedded within a spectacular society, the Games were a
text through which were commodities that deployed the power to shape national
identities and subjectivities (Giroux, 2000; Hall, 1997). They pointed to the ways in
which we are seduced and incorporated into discursive systems and materialisms
directed both by the state, military and transnational capital in the interactions
between nationalism and popular culture (cf. Giardina 2005; McCarthy, Giardina,
Park, & Harewood 2005; Prideaux, 2009). The Games then were, unsurprisingly, a
highly commodied media spectacle, one that took place under neoliberal, militarized and securitized logics of the market. It is within this context that our stories
have been told, invariably raising as many questions as they answer. They speak to
a moment in which the for-prot media seek to sell socially identiable, or
acceptable/palatable, discourses of disability; and in so doing invariably privilege
certain forms of disabled bodies over others. Through London 2012, and unfortunately as postulated in the pages of this journal in advance of these Games, those
most heroic (the returning wounded soldier) and the most accepted (those, like us,
but with just a bit missing) became the most celebrated and visible Paralympic

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bodies. Further, and as Howe (2011) argued elsewhere, the supercrip or superhuman,
those cyborgied disabled athletes who have commanded social recognition, were
those celebrated and commodied. However, our stories highlight the accompanying
pathologization of those athletes positioned at the margins, those furthest away from
cyborgication, those who do not use (or cannot) advanced sporting technologies
and those who glimpse the limelight, yet are ultimately disposable when the circus,
funding and sponsorship move on. Our stories point to a system, from schooling to
performance funding, that places impairment on the periphery and to the barriers
that perpetuate everyday experiences of being a physically active disabled citizen.
They highlight the spatial and temporal ephemerality of the Paralympics, and the
disjunctures between material and discursive elements of the spectacle and the harsh
realities of everyday life.
So, what should we take from this, what lessons do we need to learn from
London? Perhaps more than ever we need a new language of possibility; a morally
centred and critically informed dialogue focused on human rights, history and politics (Denzin, 2012). This is an embodied sports studies project that matters [that]
must locate the body with a radically contextual politics. It must focus on the active,
agentic esh-and-blood human body (Denzin, 2012, p. 298) which must re-establish
a relationship to the body that imagines embodiment as a site of pedagogic possibilityone that questions normalized cultural narrations of embodied existence (Titchkosky, 2012). More than ever, to create a critical dialogue and a radical
intervention into the multiple worlds that shape and contain the (sporting) body, we
need to listen to the voices of those whose worlds/bodies are subject to commodied
(mis-)representations the athletes as well as those positioned in the borderlands of
the Paralympic spectacle. Following Denzin (2012), we need to construct a utopian
imaginary, a radical democratic present, a safe and sheltered place where the shackles
of neoliberalism are cast aside and where consumer culture/(discursive) militarization
is held in abeyance. To do so, we need to read outwards from these disabled sporting
bodies. We need to situate these stories within the historical present, and open up a
space for utopian imaginaries; a place where the inconvenient truths of a global
sporting culture are exposed and then recongured within a radical democratic present (Denzin, 2012). Again, following Denzin (2012) whose work on sporting culture
perhaps more evocatively and succinctly offers a directional purview for our efforts
as scholars, we need to ensure that these voices/stories are critical, humane discourses, spaces in which people can express and give meaning to the tragedies in
their lives. This is a space which works back and forth, connecting the personal, the
political and the cultural and that will help people think critically, historically and
sociologically and expose the pedagogies of oppression that produce and reproduce
oppression and injustice. It will critique the ideological discourses of the media,
embedded as they are with neoliberalism, war, patriotism, democracy and so on,
and foster conversations with practitioners (Paralympics GB, National Governing
Bodies, experts in psychological and emotional disorders) and others beyond academe to create a new discourse from a coalition of voices that reimagine citizenship,
human rights, democracy and well-being for those (athletes) with impairments. This
will require a suite of critical, interpretive methodologies that can help us make sense
of bodies/lives; critical methodologies that exhibit interpretive sufciency; [are]
free of racial, class, gender, or sexual stereotyping; rely on multiple voices; enhance
moral discernment; and promote social transformation and critical consciousness,
(Denzin, 2004, pp.140141).

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We hope our stories have begun to expose questions over fear, despair, freedom,
depression, hope, love, oppression, hatred, hurt, terror, (in)equality, peace, sexualization, asexuality, performance and impairment. Yet, of course, ours is just one small
attempt to move towards these lofty, yet essential goals. To really learn from London, we need academic work that can understand sport, sporting bodies and physical
activity as important sites through which social forces, discourses, institutions and
processes congregate, congeal and are contested in a manner that contributes to the
shaping of human relations, subjectivities, and experiences in particular,
contextually contingent ways. Following Denzin (2012, p. 294), such work can aid
in helping us to:
craft a morally centered, critically informed dialogue focused on human rights, history,
and politics. They help us imagine a sports cultural studies that will interrupt history.
A sports studies that will not stand silent when a nation rushes to war. A sports studies
that creates a moral discourse that challenges ofcial versions of political reality. A
sports studies that challenges the ways political administrations manipulate information
and produce regimes of fear and terror. This is a sports studies that argues for a politics
of truth that answers to enduring issues concerning what is just. (p. 294)

Notes on contributors
Anthony Bush is a lecturer in Sports Studies, Education, and Coaching in Department of
Education at the University of Bath. He is a former professional badminton player and has
over 20 years of coaching experience. His research interests include the development of interpretive-critical research methodologies and engaging a cultural studies sensibility with sports
research; an on-going project that democratises sports research, opening it to critical conversations about social justice, cultural politics, violence, and progressive futures. He is the coauthor of Sports coaching research: Context, consequences, and consciousness (Routledge,
2013).
Michael Silk is a reader and director of the Physical Cultural Studies (PCS@Bath) research
group in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. He is an interdisciplinary
scholar specialising on issues concerning the physically active (un/healthy) body, identity politics, media sport and public pedagogy, mega-sporting events, and, popular culture. He is the
author of The cultural politics of post-9/11 American sport: Power, pedagogy and the popular (Routledge, 2012) and is the co-author of Sport and neoliberalism: Politics, consumption
and culture (Temple University Press, 2012).
Jill Porter is a reader and is director of Research in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. A core theme that runs through her research is the relationship between the
way disability is conceptualized, the practices for identifying disabled people and the organizational responses that result.
P. David Howe is senior lecturer in the Anthropology of Sport in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. He currently is the vice president of
the International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity (IFAPA). He holds a visiting professorship at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. He trained as a medical anthropologist, he is the author of Sport, professionalism and pain: Ethnographies of injury and risk
(Routledge, 2004) and The cultural politics of the paralympic movement: Through the
anthropological lens (Routledge, 2008).

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