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Final Report Summary - LONTOR (An investigation of the impact of multi-platform media coverage of the 2012 London Paralympic Games and the 2015 Toronto Parapan American Games upon perceptions of disability)

An investigation of the impact of multi-platform media coverage of the 2012 London Paralympic Games and the 2015 Toronto Parapan American Games upon perceptions of disability.

Objectives: The main objectives of the London-Toronto (LONTOR) project were to obtain a better understanding of the nuanced and sometimes conflicting attitudes towards disability and media/technology use in the context of mega-sport events.

Methodology: Fieldwork took place three-years after the London 2012 Paralympic Games and before, during and after the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games. Data was collected in diverse public locations (cafes, government/council offices, libraries, college and universities) and included all ages (with a majority youth) in three boroughs of East London (Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets) over a 3-month period, and in three areas in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) (Etobicoke, Old City, and Whitby) over 4-months. Three different questionnaires were administered face-to-face, tailored to the two cities. Over 720 questionnaires were administered; 183 were completed in the spring before the Toronto 2015 Games, and 275 in the autumn after the Games. 262 questionnaires were also administered in London, UK in 2015 after the 2012 Games. The study included 327 males and 383 females with 10 respondents who answered the question ‘other’ or did not answer the gender question. The questionnaires included both biographical details and questions that explored respondent attitudes. It was explained that the survey was part of an international study, funded by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship of the European Commission. The international nature of the study seemed to generate interest and encourage participation, as only a few people declined. It was explained that frankness was expected as all results were both anonymous and confidential, so no answers or comments could be connected to any individual participant.

Preliminary Findings: From the data collected, a major theme emerging throughout was the complexity and tension within attitudes and issues linked to identity, media, disability and inclusion. The charts included in this report provide comparative results of post-Games surveys in both cities. In addition, a wealth of diverse data was obtained from the 720 participants that includes information on personal disability, income, the nature of participation in sport and recreation, accessibility, reasons for choice of devices and media platforms and use, support for national sport teams, impact of the Games on neighbourhoods, perceptions and knowledge of disability and activism, sport viewing practices and participation in the Games and finally fairness and performance enhancing drugs. The respondents were predominantly (62%) youth (aged 18-24) ; 25% were aged 25-44, 8% aged 45-59, 3% aged 60-69 and 2% aged 70 or older. Three key preliminary findings are outlined below.

1. Although both cities are multi-cultural and have long histories of immigrant settlement there were different values and cultural frameworks related to national British and Canadian self-identity. Identity often included multiple identities, on the part of Toronto and East London residents, and reflects national government policies. In London, 76.9% identified as British and in Toronto, 92% identified as Canadian. In London, the top hyphenated identities were the categories of black, white and Asian used in government/employment applications for work, study and recreation with Bangladesh the only country listed within the top four. In Toronto, a multi-cultural, hyphenated national identity is often linked to a specific nation (described as Chinese, Italian, Philippine, Chinese, or Jamaican-Canadian) generally reflecting the emphasis on national multicultural federal policies, while also identifying as Canadian. (See fig. 1)

2. Multi-media usage is extensive as social media usage changes constantly. For sport this has implications in the way that mega-events are followed. In both London 2012 and Rio 2016, Twitter was an important source of Paralympic information, but more widely there is evidence to suggest that the number of users for this platform is in decline. Analysis is complicated also by the activities of bots (robotic tweets) which are estimated to account for as much as 30% of Twitter activity. The constant evolution of social media provides challenges and opportunities for the Paralympic movement. In the London survey 35% noted that they used their smartphone to follow sport, a higher number than other devices (desktop, laptop and tablet). In Toronto, a similar number reported smartphone usage at 38%. (See fig. 2) This also suggests the way sport is now being consumed is changing, with traditional models of coverage being challenged or modified by new media and platforms, although. more traditional media such as TV and radio were still important to some respondents, sometimes accessed with new technology in different locations. However, this was in the context that most participants had limited knowledge of the Games. 26.5% of respondents in London had not heard of the Paralympic Games previously and 46.5% of respondents in Toronto had not heard of the Parapan Am Games. Similarly, 78.8% of London respondents and 90% of Canadian respondents did not know the purpose of classification in disability sport. (See fig. 3)

3. There was an absence of troll-like, negative ableist comments, as residents in both cities provided positive comments expressing respect for, and admiration of, athletes with disabilities. (See fig. 4) This is despite ongoing negative public debate in the UK about those labelled ‘benefit scroungers’ which sometimes also includes the disabled. There were demonstrations in London against social benefit cutbacks in 2012. In Toronto, there is also ongoing debate about policy and practice about inadequate public assistance for the disabled. However, when questioned about the names of Paralympians and their performances, few could identify athletes or their records. The Paralympian brand is known, but athlete performances are little remembered and athletes are not followed after the Games. (See Table 1) This situation is also seen with some less popular non-disabled sport such as Olympic fencing, the biathlon, discus etc. and the second-tier regional Parapan American Games are less known than the Paralympic Games, so not unexpectedly the athletes and events are less known. In the UK support for the 2012 Paralympic Games and Paralympians was financial, political and social; there was pride in being the founding nation for the Paralympic Games, a royal anniversary, a successful Team GB and extensive mainstream, Channel 4, and Twitter coverage. These factors framed the Games uniquely and British respondents recognised their athletes at a significantly higher rate (from 31% to 55%) than Canadians (a range of 0% to 8%).

Potential Impact: Sometimes inclusion can be merely tokenism even though the largest minority group in the world is the one billion people with disabilities (WHO, 2015). The disabled are fragmented by different interests that include accessibility issues, income support, age-based or legal rights, carer issues and focuses on medical research, disease-based interests and different priorities for sport and recreation. Genuine inclusion is important so that those with different abilities and diverse bodies can be included in all aspects of society. The research indicates it is important to evaluate what is taking place as new media has made previously non-commercial sport available to a mass audience. Athletes with disabilities, and especially Paralympians, can transform expectations, challenge stereotypes and raise issues about accessibility. However issues related to inclusion are nuanced, sometimes leading to complex and even contradictory attitudes and behaviour.

It is expected that the results will prove useful to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), National Paralympic Committees and the Lima 2019 Parapan Organizing Committee as the focus for these organisations has been stressing the high performance nature of disability in sport, but what appeals to spectators is the dedication and determination of the athletes in the context of outstanding (seemingly impossible) performances – it is the emotion within the impairment of disability that is so striking. The UK government merged disability rights legislation within its Equality Act passed in 2010. Carla Qualtrough, the new Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities in Canada, is currently holding Consultations on Federal Accessibility Legislation across the country, and results from this study will be submitted at the February 8, 2017 meeting in Toronto.

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ATTACHMENTS: Fig. 1. Participant Identity Choices
Fig. 2. Comparison of Device Used to Follow Sport by Gender
Fig. 3. Participant Knowledge of the London 2012 & Toronto 2015 Games
Fig. 4. Participant Attitudes towards Athletes with Disabilities
Table 1. Participant Recognition of Selected Athletes with Disabilities

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