Equal Playing Fields Within the Special Olymics?
My last class discussion was an interesting debate about sports, and how to create equal playing fields within these sports. We briefly discussed the Special Olympics, and how it allows those with disabilities to have their own bracket of competition. However, my mind went a step further. I starting thinking about the structure of Special Olympics itself and questions began flooding my mind. Are there divisions within the Special Olympics according to the severity of the athlete’s disability? Or are all disabilities treated as if it were an equal playing field?
First, what really is equality? In the Subjection of Women, Mill explains the barriers that society creates, blocking individuals such as women or the disabled from participation in sports. Mill wants to undo this barrier. But would that mean that all are on the same, equally-leveled playing field? Would it be fair for a handicapped female to race against a strong male? Or would it be fair to create divisions to create more equal playing fields? When signing up for a race, I may initially think that anyone should be allowed to sign up, giving an equal chance for each individual to register. Or is equality actually having an equal opportunity to win? A disabled individual would have the most equal opportunity when competing against those on the same capability level. So does this mean we should exclude them and create able-bodied-only events? Just some food for thought.
I started by asking my friends. The first said there should be no divisions; “Everyone can participate in whatever they want. I think if they did separate divisions, that would defeat the whole purpose of Special Olympics.” Or would it be the opposite? Without divisions, you run into the same problem as prior to the creation of the Special Olympics: individuals are competing against other individuals of higher capabilities. There are over three million athletes involved in the Special Olympics; to group them all as an even playing field seems ridiculous to me. One of my other friends agreed; “since it’s an event for handicapped people, I’m sure they wouldn’t have an issue further dividing the participants by severity.”
Professor LaVaque-Manty explained that he believes we are drawn to sports because of meaningful competition. This means a legitimate challenge, physical and emotional investment, as well as a goal involved. If the Special Olympics had no divisions, the challenge would not be legitimate and meaningful competition would be lost. So what is the final answer? Yes, there are divisions. After searching through the Special Olympics official webpage, I learned that through a process called divisioning, competitions are structured to have the similarly-able athletes compete against each other. To me, this is the best manner to addresses equality accurately within the Special Olympics. Their motto, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” says it all. By creating these divisions, victory is that much more plausible; however, even the losers have the pleasure of being offered the most equal opportunity to attempt this victory.