Granted, people watch the Olympic Games more than their Paralympic counterparts. But this is just a matter of time, according to Marc Verboord, professor of media and society at Erasmus University. Two factors explain why there is more attention paid to the Olympic Games: commercial interests and symbolic values. Commercialisation obviously plays a significant role. Companies spend a lot of attention on them. The symbolic side is that the Games have grown into a strong brand over time. Verboord says the Paralympic Games can also develop into a similar brand.

Paralympic athletes are role models for society

In recent years we have also seen an emergence of other symbolic values—for example, the importance of increasing diversity. Society is increasingly aware of minority groups and groups that deserve extra support. Because of the Paralympics games, our society views people with physical disabilities differently. We can see this reflected in the viewing figures. According to the AD, the viewing figures of the Paralympics Games doubled between 2012 and 2016. And this year, NOS is again devoting more attention to the Paralympic Games.

From NOC to NOPC

The Dutch sports umbrella NOC*NSF no longer distinguishes between Olympic and Paralympic. All the facilities, amenities, and finances are the same for paralympic athletes in the Netherlands as for Olympic ones. But that’s not all. The facilities for both forms of top sports are now equal, but that does not always lead to equivalence, says former KNVB chairman Michael van Praag. He is chairman of the Dutch Sports Council. To increase the visibility and inclusiveness of paralympic top-level sport, the council suggests including it in the name of the sports umbrella organisation– changing  NOC*NSF to NOPC*NSF. Furthermore, according to the Sports Council, structural investments are needed, including specific facilities, to develop paralympic into a top-level sport further. 

Missing media attention

Now that Olympic and Paralympic athletes are treated equally ‘sport-wise’, we need to move towards a fair distribution of attention. The mainstream media prefers to have familiar faces at the table, like a Dafne or an Epke, according to the chef de mission Esther Vergeer of TeamNL. ‘It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg story. An A-status as an athlete doesn’t really guarantee sponsorship or press opportunities. The media want solid headlines. Once they know they can get headlines, they will be asked more often. Just like how Marlou (van Rhijn) and Bibian (Mentel) are often in the picture. 

In America, Germany and France the prize money is just as high

Flemish Minister of Equal Opportunities, Bart Somers: “There is no reason why a silver medal at the Paralympics is worth three times less than a silver medal at the Olympics. In countries like America, Germany and France the prize money is just as high. We should do the same here in Belgium. That is not only logic itself; it is also symbolically and socially important. People with disabilities are not second-class citizens, and they deserve equal opportunities and fair pay.’

Determination, inspiration, courage and equality

These are the four values of the International Paralympic Committee. But there is no such financial equality in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the prize money for Paralympians is still significantly lower than for Olympians. The differences are: 15,000 versus 30,000 euros for gold, 4,500 versus 22,500 euros for silver and 3,000 versus 15,000 euros for bronze. And this is not only bad for the Paralympians themselves but also for society. 


‘Whether it’s top sport what we do – that question is no longer an issue’:

Esther Vergeer: “More media attention should go to the Paralympic Games.”:

More attention to Paralympic Games at NOS this year:

Paralympics on its way to a gold medal in viewer figures:

Bart Somers wants to equalise the remuneration of Olympic and Paralympic athletes:

Sports council: make Paralympic and Olympic sports equal:

How much do our Paralympians earn from their medals? And what about other countries?:

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