Belgians attach great importance to the Paralympic Games, but not much funding
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Belgians attach great importance to the Paralympic Games, but not much funding

Paralympian athlete Gitte Haenen pictured in action during the final of the Women's Long Jump T63 athletics event on day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Thursday 02 September 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. The paralympic Games take place from the 24 August to the fifth of September. BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS

A study by researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) found that Belgians attach great importance to the Paralympic Games, athletes and media coverage of the events.

The researchers surveyed an equal number of people living in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels to collect data on the perception of the Paralympics. They found that four in five Belgians believe that winning a medal at the Paralympic Games is just as important as winning one at the Olympic Games.

What is more, Belgians indicated that Paralympic athletes serve as role models more so than Olympic athletes: 86 percent of respondents said Paralympic athletes are role models compared to 82 percent who said the same for Olympic athletes.

The last Paralympic Games closed in Tokyo earlier this month, with Belgium bringing home 15 medals and ranking 25th among the world’s competing countries when it came to the number of medals won, and 31st in medal ranking.

The next games will be held in Paris in 2024, but Belgium’s performance could be hindered by a lack of funding.

“To be able to equal or better this in Paris in 2024, we need more resources to support our Paralympic athletes and their teams,” said Professor Veerle De Bosscher of the VUB research group SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success).

“When the budget is limited, hard choices often have to be made in the selection of sports and athletes. Flanders is at a high point of performance, in both Olympic and Paralympic sports, and does a lot with limited resources, compared to other countries. Do we want to aim even higher? Yes, we do and  we can.”

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SPLISS found that Belgians believe the Paralympic Games and performances are important and should be given attention. But the financial support provided by the Government to Paralympic programmes doesn’t quite match the population’s sentiments.

“Since 2006, the Netherlands has aimed to be in the world’s top 10 and surpassed itself in Tokyo in 2020 with its best-ever performance: fifth in the Paralympic Games (59 medals) and seventh in the Olympics (36 medals),” said De Bosscher.

“This is based on long-term planning, clear priorities and very efficient policy and engagement of partners in local and national government, media and business. Flanders has made great strides in recent years in its strategic approach to top-level sports policy: we do a lot with limited resources.”

But De Bosscher believes more can be done: “If top-class sport has a high societal value according to Flemish people, we need to invest further. Because top-class sport connects, inspires, creates identity and makes people proud and happy.”

Translation: What an honor to host our Olympic and Paralympic heroes! #TeamBelgium gave us a wonderful summer of sports. But they also taught us that success comes in many forms. In our differences often lies our greatest strength.

The SPLISS survey collected a variety of data regarding attitudes towards the Paralympics in Belgium.

Their findings indicate:

  • 60% of the Belgian population likes to follow the Paralympic Games on TV
  • 58% would like more coverage of parasports in general on TV, either through live events or reporting
  • 73% consider it important for the country to win medals at the Paralympic Games (compared to 70% for the Olympics).
  • 77% (totally) agree that they are proud of our Paralympic athletes when they perform well (compared to 73% for the Olympics)
  • 70% say that the performances of our top Paralympic athletes make them happy (compared to 67% for the Olympics)
  • 77% agree or strongly agree that top-level Paralympic sporting achievements contribute to the international image of our country (compared to 81% for the Olympics)
  • 79% believe that top-level Paralympians should be actively involved in promoting parasports among young people with disabilities
  • 81% agree that para-athletes should be financially supported to participate in the Paralympic Games.

The most popular Paralympic sports are athletics, cycling, wheelchair tennis (in which Belgium tends to do very well), wheelchair basketball and swimming.

SPLISS also looked at spending on the Paralympics across various countries, finding that it is highest in Brazil, the UK and Canada, each of which spent more than €20 million in the year 2020.

In Flanders, spending amounted to €1.22 million, or 4 percent of the total top-level sports budget.

“This is low in absolute and relative terms compared to other countries and regions,” the study found.

“In the Netherlands, the figure is €3.8 million (5.2%) and in Brazil €25.7 million (21.9%). It is higher than 10% in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Portugal. The budget for Wallonia and Brussels is not known.”

Belgium performed better at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics than in the 2016 Rio Games, taking home four more medals.

The 15 medals Belgium won were in five sports: equestrianism, athletics, table tennis and track and road cycling.

Great Britain won 124 medals and the Netherlands took home 59. New Zealand, with a similar budget to Flanders, won 12.

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