Major sporting events and geographies of disability
Along with my co-authors Dr Laura Misener and Prof Gayle McPherson, I’ve just published a paper that focuses on the role of major sporting events in addressing inequalities relating to the geographies of disability. The article is accessible permanently here, with free copies available for the first 50 people. This paper draws on a collaborative (and comparative) study of two types of sporting event for athletes with a disability – integrated and separate – and considers the extent to which these events ameliorate the exclusionary nature of urban space for those people living with a physical disability. The study focuses on empirical work undertaken at both the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (where able bodied and disabled athletes participated on the same programme) and the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games (a separate event for para-athletes taking place two weeks after the Pan Am Games). There is an ongoing debate within major and mega event literatures as to the impact (or legacy) that these Games produce for host destinations and their citizens, alike. Whilst both of the events researched professed hopes and aspirations to further accessibility of the built environment as a result of hosting their events, we argue that:
developments are unequal, with benefits poorly distributed, doing little to address the systematic barriers persons with disabilities face in the urban environment, post-Games.
We are not suggesting that the investments made in order to host these major events is pointless but rather that:
the mega-spectacle of events benefits agents of capital accumulation (tourism and sporting venues) over the marginalized, excluded and powerless. In particular, we suggest that the everyday experience of disability outside of sports venues is unlikely to be materially improved, despite significant levels of investment in event projects and strict guidelines from international governing bodies. This is primarily because there are structural weaknesses in the organization and governance of these events that prioritizes the delivery of short-term imperatives – hosting the best event – over the achievement of longer-term material improvements.
There is a need for more empirical work focusing on the lived experience of persons with a disability as they navigate their way through the urban milieu before, during and after the event project passes through and this is the focus of our next research grant!