There are a bevy of issues that present both challenges and controversies for the world of disability sport. Some of these issues are the same as issues faced by able-bodied sport as well such as doping, and performance enhancing drugs. Some of the issues are exclusive to disability sport, such as the lack of media coverage, classification system, and emphasis on youth sports. In either case, it is important that society continues to improve on perception of athletes with disabilities and develop a more acceptable approach to the way that competition is regarded.
The issues that face the able-bodied sport community, as well as the disability sport community, are long standing issues that will always exist. One such example is the desire to use doping and performance enhancing agents to gain an advantage during competition. Regardless of the form of competition, if the ultimate goal is to excel there will always be a desire to improve the chances of winning. Doping and sports enhancers give the athlete a better chance of outperforming their counterparts and this is an issue that cannot be ignored. Every major faction involved with disability sport has had to deal with a variety of performance enhancing agents that range from illegal prosthetics and wheelchair modifications to steroids and blood doping agents. In order for the world of disability sport to be taken seriously as a legitimate form of competition it is important to eliminate these enhancements and provide an even playing field that generates appropriate competition. As disability sport progress, it will be a continued battle against those looking to gain an unfair advantage, and it is paramount for society to continue to combat this issue.
The issues that are more focused on disability sport include: appropriate classification systems, youth sports promotion, inclusion, and media opportunities and coverage.
The classification system has been a topic of controversy for as long as disability sport competition has existed. The question begs. “How should each athlete and event be classified to demonstrate a fair and reasonable level of competition?” Should athletes be classified by their level of disability or by their level of ability? In able-bodied sports the classification at elite levels is simply a matter of weight class or sex. In disability sports the classification range is fair greater. Classification ranges from level of impairment, to type of impairment. These classifications tend to include a multitude of groups based on the wide range of disabilities that exist. DePauw & Gavron (2005) mentions that elite able-bodied sports typically crown two champions for each event (male or female) while disability sports crown an almost uncountable number of champions (one for each classification) (p. 246). This comparison stirs up controversy as to the legitimacy of disability sports as a whole. There is a large group that would argue that there should be very groups available to truly distinguish those that are elite and worthy of the title of champion. Some would dispute that the athletes should be classified based on their abilities rather than their disabilities and this would group several classifications together and thus decrease the number of winners.
The promotion of youth sports is vital to the future of disability sports. Because there is still a severe lack of opportunities and information for young athletes to develop their skills to become elite athletes of tomorrow there will always be important role to increase awareness. Young able-bodied athletes have an immense amount of opportunities to perform in a variety of sports and it will be important for society to increase the opportunities for their disabled counterparts.
Inclusion of athletes with disabilities into mainstream sports is on the rise. Opportunities to engage in both recreational and competitive sports between able-bodied athletes and athletes with disabilities are increasing every year. With that being said, there is still a wide gap that needs to be addressed across the globe. Each opportunity that exists has been gained in a very slow manner and at a very slow pace. There are still a variety of areas that the separation is still very prevalent. Proponents of disability sport will be faced with the challenge of educating the public and increasing the opportunity for both groups of athletes to compete together in a safe and still competitive environment.
Another issue is the importance of increasing mass media coverage for disability sport. Only recently have there been opportunities for the majority of the public to view elite level competition between athletes with disabilities. ESPN for example, has not had any major coverage of disability sport competition on a regular basis as compared to sports for able-bodied athletes. If disability sport is to continue to progress, it will be vital to improve media coverage and incorporate a greater appreciate for the feats of this impressive group of athletes.
DePauw, K., & Gavron, S. (2005). Disability Sport (2nd ed.). Human Kinetics.