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Opinion: Sports are a shared human experience, bringing us joy and drama. So it is time to appreciate the Paralympics on par with the Olympics.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons

Sports are sports, and athletes are athletes. Unless you get classified differently by the outside world. Let’s take the chance to experience more of the good stuff.

When you think of your favorite moments in sports, great sports stories come to mind. Inspiring stories. Stories that move you. The athlete defying the odds to achieve success in their sport.

Look no further than the Paralympics to find these outstanding stories. Just look at some of the examples from Tokyo 2020 this past summer.

Herbert Aceituno of El Salvador was born with achondroplasia, a rare form of dwarfism. After his birth, his mother was told he had three months to live. 35 years later, he became the first Paralympian from El Salvador to win a medal, taking home bronze in the 59kg weightlifting competition.

Aceituno told the media in Tokyo that “disability comes from the mind, not the body.”

As the Taliban took over Afghanistan, there were concerns that Paralympians Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli wouldn’t be able to make it to Tokyo. But an international campaign resulted in the pair being evacuated to Paris, and then to Tokyo for the Paralympic Games.

Khudadadi, who competed in taekwondo, was the first Afghan woman to compete in the Paralympics since 2004.

In 2011, United States Navy Lieutenant Brad Snyder lost his eyesight in Afghanistan due to an explosion. But being blind didn’t stop him from winning big as a Paralympian, as he took home a combined six gold medals in swimming at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.

In the Tokyo Game, Snyder switched courses, competing in the triathlon and winning the United States’ first-ever gold medal in the event for either the Olympics or the Paralympics.

If you’re a sports fan, how can you not love these stories? We’re always looking for the next great and inspiring sports story.

But at this point, I guess how much avocado ice cream Tom Brady is eating or Kevin Durant’s Twitter antics are more appealing storylines in the world of sports.

Just look at the television ratings of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics compared to the Paralympics.

NBC’s primetime coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics averaged 15.5 million viewers per night. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on NBC received a total viewership of 14 million people over the entire course of the Games.

It doesn’t require a keen eye to recognize that discrepancy.

The Paralympic Games are growing, and we need to grow with them.

More athletes are competing in the Paralympics over the last two Games. Both Games set new records for the number of athletes participating in them.

A new Paralympic record was set in 2016 when 4,328 athletes participated in the Rio Games. Those Summer Games represented the largest Paralympics since the inaugural event took place in Rome in 1960.

Tokyo 2020 broke that record, as 4,403 athletes competed in the Games across 22 sports and 23 disciplines. More women are also competing in the Paralympics, with female representation increasing by 10.9% during the 2020 Games.

NBC can be thanked for growing with the Paralympic Games, dramatically increasing the number of hours of Paralympic programming across its networks.

Looking at the numbers, NBC broadcast just 5.5 total hours of Paralympic programming during the London 2012 Games, growing the number to 70 hours of programming for Rio 2016, then dramatically increasing the number of hours to 1,200 for Tokyo 2020 this past summer.

Advertising featuring the Paralympics is also increasing. This past summer, Toyota debuted a commercial starring one of the most decorated U.S. Paralympians of all time, swimmer Jessica Long.

Something is building here. With athlete participation in the Paralympics at an all-time high alongside NBC’s steady increase in Paralympic programming, the gap must be bridged to give the Paralympics the attention it deserves.

The television ratings of the Paralympics are on the rise, as Tokyo 2020 saw an 81% increase in total viewership across NBC’s networks compared to Rio 2016’s ratings.

On the other hand, Olympic ratings have dramatically decreased. NBC’s primetime viewership of the Games has seen a three-year decline, averaging 31.1 nightly primetime viewers during the London 2012 Games, 26.7 million viewers during Rio 2016, and 15.5 million viewers during Tokyo 2020.

There are many crisscrossing paths here.

Paralympic athlete participation is up. Paralympic television ratings are up. Olympic television ratings are down.

The way we connect these paths and give Paralympians the spotlight they deserve is by playing the Olympics and the Paralympics together, at the same time, at the same place.

Take the Tokyo 2020 summer games for example. Play the Olympics and the Paralympics at the same time in Tokyo. This should be done with both the summer and winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Yes, there are logistics that will need to be worked out, but the benefits far outweigh the costs when it comes to playing the Olympics and Paralympics at the same time.

More training and competition facilities will need to be built in the host cities, Olympic and Paralympic villages will need to be expanded and media spaces will need to be doubled in order to host both Games at the same time. Host cities will also need to be able to accommodate more spectators.

But imagine Olympians and Paralympians cheering for each other while competing in the same spaces, at the same times, in front of the same fans. Olympic events could be followed by Paralympic events, or vice versa, in a combined Games schedule.

Olympic and Paralympic events could be broadcast alongside each other during NBC’s primetime coverage. The Paralympic stories that deserve a larger audience will finally receive it.

The way we amplify the stories of Paralympians is by combining the Games with the Olympics. All athletes of all abilities on the same stage.

And all stories shared equally.

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