Irish para-athlete Ellen Keane has spoken powerfully about the different attentions Paralympic athletes and Olympic athletes receive in Ireland.
Keane was speaking at a virtual event to launch Allianz’ eight-year worldwide partnership of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a partnership which will encompass the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympics.
The swimmer from Dublin has been to three Paralympic Games – her first appearance, in Beijing in 2008, came when she was only 13. Keane, who is hoping to compete in this year’s games in Tokyo, took a bronze medal home from her last appearance in Rio, coming home in third in the SB8 100m breaststroke final.
This URKS me.
In the article 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? #paralympics #equality #Tokyo2020 https://t.co/2uMHIm8K9T
— Ellen Keane PLY💜 (@keane_ellen) February 2, 2021
Keane spoke out on Twitter recently about the different press that Paralympians can expect compared to their Olympian counterparts, and elaborated on her feelings at Wednesday’s press event.
“It’s very frustrating. The Olympics doesn’t happen without the Paralympics, the Olympics has never happened without the Paralympics following after, since the Paralympics began. And the fact that the people responsible for reporting on sport seem to love to exclude Paralympics is really frustrating and it takes away from all the hard work that Paralympians do. Paralympians do exactly the same as Olympians – we wait four years, every four years our one opportunity comes around. We train day in, day out, we work just as hard.”
Though there was obvious frustration in Keane’s voice as she spoke out about the media’s treatment of the Paralympics, she was also keen to drive home just how powerful the games can be for those with disabilities, and how profound a change in representation would be for those seeking to break into the world of para-sport.
“What the Paralympic movement tries to do, it’s not just about sport – it is high performance, but it’s not just about sport. It’s about showing the world what people with disabilities can do and how high achieving they can be and, if you choose to include Paralympics, you’re giving other people an opportunity to reach their goals and to be high achievers.”
Uncertainty continues to shroud the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo this year. Originally scheduled for last summer, the games were pushed back a year due to the pandemic and there is continued apprehension about staging them. The uncertainty – coupled with repeated lockdowns in Irelan – has been challenging for Keane and other elite athletes, who have had to adapt their training regimes.
“It’s been wild, it’s been awful, hasn’t it?
It’s been weird, it’s been a year of adapting and trying to be resilient and thinking outside the box. When the first lockdown happened and we couldn’t get access to the pool, it was trying to get as much equipment as we possibly could to try and keep our fitness up and keep our gym routines going.
I was on the bike and I’m not a cyclist and cycling is awful. Anyone who cycles, I have so much more respect for them because it’s such a sweaty sport! Maybe that’s why I swim, because you can’t see how sweaty I get.”
It’s been a strange year for all Irish athletes, but perhaps the phrase “unprecedented” fits Paralympians and Olympians more than any other subsection of the Irish sporting world. Never in the 125-year modern history of the Olympics have the summer games been postponed – there have been three outright cancellations of the games, during the two World Wars, and other than that the four-year cycle had never been broken before Tokyo. The class of 2021 have had an extra year to prepare for their events, something Keane has seen the positive side of.
“For me, I liked that little bit more time because I’ve been doing the same thing day-in-day-out since I was 11 and I’ve never had time off. So when I was forced into that break from swimming, it was nice to be able to chill and when I got back into the water, I could focus. So that was nice.”
With the strange times we are living in, sport has been a much-needed lift for many, and Keane is eager to add to her Paralympic medal tally in Tokyo to give the country a well-needed lift.
“When something this terrible is going on in the world it makes you realise what’s important to you and how much you love your sport and how much it means to you. The country is going through such a hard time, imagine how lovely it would be to go and represent Ireland and come back with a medal. Imagine giving that to the country – that’s something that pushes me as well.”
Fingers will be crossed worldwide that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will go ahead without a hitch this summer and Irish hopes will be set on more medals, with Keane among our best hopes – and she closed by driving home her hope that Paralympic success will be celebrated just as much as Olympic success.
“There’s too many people in the media who love to exclude it and it really, really annoys me. I have my eye on every one of you!”