Disability award no more than token gesture

By Cameron Leslie

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The Halberg Awards are widely known as the pinnacle sporting awards in this country, but are they really?

Awards ceremonies are a forum where sportspeople get together to celebrate and reminisce about their achievements over the past 12 months. The Halberg Awards are no different, albeit on a national level rather than the usual regional, or sport specific.

In Wednesday's Northern Advocate, I was announced as a finalist in the Halbergs, along with fellow Northlander Blair Tuke in the Team of the Year category, in the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year category but am undecided on whether or not I should bother turning up.

For me, while I was competing at the Paralympics in London I wasn't thinking about awards ceremonies or celebrating after my races. Admittedly, I was thinking about my new role as sports editor at the Northern Advocate and how my studying and sporting life was about to be flipped upside down.

Fast forward four months and now I'm questioning whether the Halberg Awards are really for me. It's not that I don't rate them as an awards ceremony, but more that I disagree with being shoved into the token disability award.

An award which is known affectionately within disabled sporting circles as the "Token Gimp Award".

In 2011, the Halberg Trust surveyed a number of people within the sports sector and media about whether or not a disability-specific award should be included in the so-called pinnacle sports awards, founded by an organisation based around disability.

The results were fairly straightforward with only seven of the 114 surveyed saying there shouldn't be a disabled award. I was one of those seven who disagreed and know of at least one other top disabled sportsperson who disagreed also.

For an organisation that is based around disabled people in sport, the Halbergs aren't really practising on the elite level what they preach at grassroots. The Halberg Trust's mission statement says it "aims to enhance the lives of physically disabled young people, their families and communities, by enabling them to participate in sport".

However, when it comes to elite sports, such as the Halberg Awards are judging, it's not about participation. It could be said that the Halberg Awards are now being politically correct by adding the disabled category and giving disabled sportspeople slightly more exposure around New Zealand - or is it just lazy judging, so apples are compared with apples.

Although that doesn't help when it comes to the Supreme Award winner. Christchurch's Paralympic superstar Sophie Pascoe should take out not only the disabled award but also the Supreme. She won six medals at the London Paralympics, the pinnacle sporting event for a disabled athlete. Her three gold and three silver should top that of Mahe Drysdale, Lisa Carrington and Valerie Adams.

Come February 14 when the winners are announced, I hope to be at the awards but in a supporter's role for Pascoe. I highly doubt she will win the Supreme Award, but in the event that she does I want to be there to applaud her and her achievements.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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