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The 2021 Paralympics Are Coming to Prime Time

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After an especially long wait for this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics, this year’s games will be historic in more ways than one — for the first time ever, the Paralympics are coming to prime time.

On Wednesday, NBCUniversal announced that they will air a whopping 1,200 hours of the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics, with over 200 hours of events available on NBC, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel.

In a recent statement, U.S. Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said that NBCUniversal’s decision to dedicate a historic amount of time to Paralympic programming is “truly something to celebrate” and will “bring the incredible feats of our Para athletes into more American homes than ever before.”  This summer’s extensive coverage of the Paralympic Games — including the June 27 Paralympic trials — is certainly worthy of celebration, especially for people with disabilities and their loved ones.

Though both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games captivate and unite the world and consume our collective consciousness for weeks on end, the same can’t be said for the Paralympics due to the lack of coverage it usually receives.  The 2012 London Paralympic Games received a dismal 5.5 hours of coverage in the United States, with a few hour-long segments highlighting various competitions.  In 2016, NBC ramped up its dedication to promoting the Paralympics, with 70 hours of Para event coverage, but the network’s efforts to cover the Paralympics significantly paled in comparison to its 6,700 hours of Olympic coverage.

Though the discrepancy between aired hours of NBC’s Olympic and Paralympic coverage is still significant, the network is gradually increasing its efforts to cover Paralympic events.  After the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics, NBC aired 8 hours of footage from previous Paralympic competitions this past June.

The upward trend in Paralympic coverage is a boon for people with disabilities who long to see themselves represented in athletic settings. In a society that often equates disability with physical inability, the Paralympics are a refreshing reminder that people with disabilities can thrive in competition and make formidable opponents against able-bodied and disabled competitors alike.  This message is especially crucial for those who live with disabilities themselves — in a world that typically nudges disability-centered athletic events to the side, disabled people who watch disabled athletes could develop an increased desire to pursue athletics themselves.

NBCUniversal’s decision to dedicate a significantly larger portion of prime time television hours to the Paralympics than ever before is a historic opportunity for people with disabilities to feel represented in the world’s most elite athletic competitions.  Though the network’s efforts to cover the Olympics and Paralympics equally remains an uphill battle, this year’s unprecedented hours of Tokyo Paralympic coverage will show the world that people with disabilities are fierce competitors and deserve respect and representation.

The 2021 Tokyo Paralympics will air from August 24 to September 5.

Getty image by Sportpoint.

Originally published: February 27, 2021
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