Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unity in Closing

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After a week of record breaking and awe-inspiring competition, the 2016 Paralympic games closed on Sunday, September 18th with a festive and meaningful ceremony at the Maracana stadium. This ceremony demonstrated the importance of creating a global society of athletes that moves beyond stereotype and toward inclusion and unity in the construct of citizenship of sport.

Perhaps the most moving demonstration of this unity was the recognition and moment of silence dedicated to Iranian Paralympian Bahman Golbamezhad, who tragically died during the wheelchair road race the prior day.

In recognition of the many sensory abilities Paralympic athletes possess and rely on, the closing ceremony began with a display focusing on different aspects of sound and their interplay with generating other sensory abilities and experiences. This included the incorporation of Brazilian carnival music and heavy metal music as forms of expression that sounds generate. Sounds of all forms not only informed the audience’s experience but also were used as a background for disabled acrobats against which to frame their visually stunning performances.

Toward the end of the ceremony, the focus shifted to thanking volunteers and athletes alike for their participation. An essential aspect of this was the use of the epic Bob Marley song “One Love” as a frame for a changing photographic display demonstrating the many different races and ethnicities involved in the Paralympics. In this way, the ceremony highlighted the unity achieved through the Paralympic games and the Paralympic movement.

As is tradition, the closing ceremony featured a segment produced by the host city of the next Paralympic games, in this case Tokyo in 2020. The first Paralympic games were hosted by Tokyo in 1964 and the segment began with footage of those games. In addition to providing historical background, the footage narration explained that in 1964 there were few Japanese Paralympians and they were shocked at the ways in which other Paralympians were included in society because of the ways in which the disabled were viewed in Japan.

The narration went on to explain that, following the 1964 Paralympic games, access to the possibilities for including the disabled in society and athletics began to change in Japan and emerged as the present state of inclusion and success for the Japanese Paralympic team. Through this part of the segment, the impact of the Paralympics as a method of creating disabled communities at the international level and using lessons from these communities to change the ways that the disabled are treated at the national level were brought into sharp focus.

The second portion of the Tokyo closing ceremony segment focused on the ways in which the disabled are included in modern Japanese life, particularly in the arts. It featured disabled Japanese designers and performers who are seen as the embodiment of modern Japan and progress into the future. At the same time, the segment paralleled the beach scene used in the Rio opening ceremony to portray an urban setting in which those with different ranges of abilities come together and assist each other in moving forward toward progress.

Taken together, the Rio and Tokyo segments of the closing ceremony created a legacy of unity for the international community of Paralympians and for society overall. This reflects the ways in which the Paralympic games helped to make the world brighter for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jurisculture Hits 100 posts - by Alexandra Harrington and Amar Khoday

We at Jurisculture have reached a milestone. This writing marks Jurisculture’s 100th post. On a (probably) cold New Year’s Day seven years ago this site was launched with our first post, “Envisioning Jurisculture”. In it, we shared our vision for what we wanted this site to be and represent. Back then we were two sprightly doctoral candidates at McGill University’s Faculty of Law pursuing our own research under the same supervisor – Dr. Frédéric Mégret.

Neither of our theses was directly connected to the interface of law and popular culture. Nevertheless, we were fascinated and struck by our mutual interest in the ways that forms of popular culture – films, television, music, literature, etc – connected to law to produce a popular and accessible jurisprudence. We created this site as a medium to explore this vibrant nexus. Of course, another way of looking at it was that watching movies and TV or listening to music provided a great tool for procrastination while writing about our reflections through blog postings gave it an intellectual legitimacy.  

Many years later, we’ve each produced dozens of blog postings while also managing to undertake our doctoral research, submit and successfully defend our respective theses. We’ve looked not only at how law is constructed and transmitted through popular culture but also (more recently) how the latter can serve as an important tool for legal education. We’ve looked at a range of topics and themes – Star Trek, American Idol, Sex and the City, reality shows, themes of resistance, ideas about equality, song lyrics, ballet, comedians, sport – to name several.  

In the coming years, we plan to keep posting and writing. In the next month or so, we plan to launch a Facebook page and Twitter feed to disseminate not only our writings, but also the work of others. We would like to take a moment to thank you – whether you have been a reader from the start or are just visiting Jurisculture for the first time. Without an audience to read our posts, follow us and share comments it would be far less exciting for us to find and share our ideas. We look forward to continue sharing our work with you.

Alexandra & Amar

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sorrow in Sports

There are some things that bring communities together in unique ways, and the death of a community member is certainly one of them. Several months ago, Jurisculture discussed the creation of communities of sorrow from horrific events that occur in one place but impact the world as a whole. This post discusses the ways in which sorrow brings together communities of Paralympians in a special way.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Bahman Golbarnezhad, Iranian Para-cyclist and two-time Paralypian, who died today following a crash during competition. Mr. Golbarnezhad was 48 years old at the time of his death and leaves behind a family in Shiraz, Iran.

Mr. Golbarnezhad’s death came whilecompeting in a road cycling event for those with injuries to lower limbs. While the circumstances are being investigated, it is known that he was involved in an accident on the descent of a hill on the road course and was brought to hospital, where he passed away of cardiac issues.

As the ultimately fatal accident came during the course of competition, many other competitors were unaware of it until after the race had ended. However, when Mr. Golbarnezhad’s death became known to his fellow competitors and to the larger Paralympic community, it caused reactions that demonstrated the power of sport to form a community that experienced sorrow together.

There were official statements of grief from the Iranian delegation and from the International Paralympic Committee, as expected, but also from national delegations. These national delegations included the United States, which still has some diplomatic tensions with Iran. These statements demonstrated that in the face of tragedy, the sporting community reaches well beyond the strictures and concerns of formal diplomatic wrangling.

This is particularly true of the Paralympic community, in which competitors have a deeper understanding of the sacrifices their competition has made for sport. Athletes who knew Mr. Golbarnezhad were obviously impacted by his death, as were those who had never met him. The athletes impacted were not only members of the cycling community but came from many other sports, all sharing the bond of the sports community and particularly of the Paralympic community.

During this time of competition and focus on success, the tragic death of Mr. Golbarnezhad has united the Paralympic community in sorrow, demonstrating the power of sports to forge a strong societal bond. In this way, Mr. Golbarnezhad’s legacy will extend far into the future.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

From Violence to Community

The celebration of sports and abilities that is encompassed by the Paralympics is truly uplifting and inspirational. In themselves, the Paralympic games represent the ability to use athletics as a means of international diplomacy through the creation of personal friendships that surpass nationality or citizenship. At the same time, the Paralympic games promote international diplomacy across boundaries and borders in the promotion of those with disabilities as part of society and indeed as key representatives of their states.

Beyond this, the Paralympic games offer the ability for those disabled by violence to assert their abilities as athletes and as members of a society of Paralympians that does not regard them as victims but rather as competitors and equals. Paralympians at the 2016 Rio games have disabilities from forms of violence that are as different as the sports they compete in.

For example, Brazil native Jovane Silva Guissone, a wheelchair fencer, suffered damage to his spine and legs when he was shot years ago in his own neighbourhood. Despite the impact of local violence, Guissone is a deeply proud Brazilian who has been eager to show off his country as well as his own skills. The results of violence in combat zones also have impacted the Paralympian community. There are many examples of this, such as powerlifter Micky Yule, a former British Royal Engineers staff sergeant wounded by an IED while serving in Afghanistan, and triathlon runner Melissa Stockwell, formerly a first lieutenant in the United States Army, who was similarly wounded in Iraq.

These are only a few of the Paralympians who have found their lives changed by violence and who have used sports to recreate themselves and give them continuity of identity. Their stories are heroic and many have used their status as Paralympians to bring attention to those similarly impacted by violence.

At the same time, the Paralympics allow those impacted by violence of any kind to develop an identity beyond the experience of conflict. It creates a different society in which there is a shared experience of competition and athletic pride. This is a very deep aspect of citizenship of sport, one that involves identity and inclusion.   

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Individualizing Victory

The medal ceremony – it is the culmination of athletic competition. Throughout the years, iconic images have been generated during medal ceremonies. Athletes overcome with emotion at seeing their flags raised and singing their national anthems and athletes kissing their medals in appreciation are part of popular imagery.

This is understandable since the medal ceremony recognizes the culmination of an athlete’s competitive endeavors. This sense of accomplishment is particularly meaningful among Paralympians, who reach the pinnacles of their sports despite often overwhelming odds. However, until now athletes with visual impairments have had limited abilities to fully experience the range of individual accomplishment that is part of the sensory aspect of winning a Paralympic medal.

Paralympic medals have traditionally been engraved in braille messages that indicate the medals received. For the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, organizers involved local artists in the creation of new medals featuring internal balls that can be rung to indicate the type of medal won. The pitch levels are different between gold, bronze and silver medals, providing each athlete with an individualized experience based on their accomplishments.

In this way, visually impaired athletes are able to experience a fuller sensory aspect of the medal winning experience. Athletes are also able to receive a personalized reflection of their accomplishments rather than the uniform reflection that is available through the use of braille alone.

Very often, media coverage focuses on winning medals as the pinnacle of the competitive experience for athletes. However, this only tells half the story – the other half is in receiving the medal as the culmination of an athlete’s personal achievement. With the introduction of the new medals at the Rio Paralympic games, it is now possible for athletes to fully experience the knowledge and emotion of their accomplishments in sound and in touch. In this way, the new medals are emblematic of ways in which society can move beyond using a universal mechanism for recognizing those with disabilities and disabled communities and instead create individualized mechanisms of recognition for those with disabilities.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Advertising for Change

Around the world, well-known athletes are rewarded and glorified by advertising campaigns and through serving as spokespeople. Indeed, this has so permeated culture that these associations are nearly cliché. For example, successful Olympians are often pictured on a Wheaties cereal box and it is now traditional that members of winning teams in American football proclaim to the world that they have won and are going to Disneyland. Across sports, the better – or a least better known – an athlete/team is the more likely that the athlete/team will have sponsors to cover uniforms, sports equipment, shoes, bikes, cars, and other sports implements. In this way, the athletes and teams become the public face of the product.

Much has been made of the controversy surrounding Ryan Lochte’s antics during the recent 2016 Olympic games, including the way in which his sponsors so quickly disassociated him from their brands. As is often the case, attention has been focused on the sensational news story.

An arguably more important advertising story has taken place during 2016 Paralympics competition in Rio. Lego, the maker of toys, models and figurines popular the world over, has announced that it will create two special edition figurines of Singapore Paralympians Yip Pin Xiuand Theresa Goh, medal winners at this year’s games. Yip and Goh were already known as athletes in Singapore, however this has bolted them to stardom within the country and globally. The athletes themselves have issued statements indicating their pride in being portrayed as figurines but beyond this personal achievement they expressed joy at Lego’s portrayal of athletes with disabilities. These sentiments have been echoed across Singapore and across the world, and Yip and Goh have become the face of more than just a brand as a result.

Similarly, over the last several days it was announced that Australian Paralympian Robyn Lambaird will serve in a major upcoming advertising campaign for Target in Australia. Not only will she be a part of the advertising campaign, she will advertise sports clothing in images including those of her in a wheelchair as well as a close-up of her upper torso. As with Yip and Goh, Lambird’s response to the advertising campaign was not only personal excitement but also excitement at bringing attention to those with disabilities and athletes.

It is often said that we live in a global community of consumerism. There are many negative connotations to this, as is evidenced when a spokesperson has a fall from grace. However, as the new Lego and Target products and advertisements demonstrate, it is possible for commercial advertisements to serve as ads for products and ads for communities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Life and Death in Sports

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Previous Jurisculture posts have discussed the concept of athletes being citizens of a sporting community in addition to – or sometimes rather than – being citizens of a country. These posts have highlighted the ways in which sports are unifying forces that go beyond the physicality of athleticism or the thrill of competition alone.

As a corollary, this post examines the idea of sports as a bridge between life and death concerns for athletes and how these concerns can become greater than an individual athlete through the international attention sports can attract.

Recently, Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, a multiple medal winning wheelchair racer, made headlines when there was speculation that she planned to commit suicide at the conclusion of the Rio Paralympic games because she has announced that she is retiring from the sport. Vervoort’s condition involves a painful and life-altering degenerative condition of the spine. Since her diagnosis, Vervoort’s symptoms have progressed to the point where they interfere with her basic life functions. Despite this, she has remained a steadfast and dedicated athlete, winning medals at several Paralympic games.

Under Belgian law, suicide is legal and in the past Vervoort has stated that she is open to the idea of committing suicide at some point. Indeed, she has signed the papers necessary for this to be carried out already. Media outlets, perhaps with a sense of drama, made suggestions about her impending suicide seem as though it would be the culmination of her having met her achievements at the Rio games. Instead, Vervoort has explained that, while she does not intend to take her life at the conclusion of the Rio games, knowing that the option for suicide is available to her has given her hope. Her statements show another side to an often negative topic – the empowering effect that legalized suicide may have for some of those who suffer from crippling diseases.

Although Vervoort has not yet elected to utilize her own right to commit suicide, she has turned the attention she has received into an opportunity to champion for the expansion of legalized suicide laws in other countries.  In this way, she is using the platform available to her as an elite athlete to speak about an issue that is typically not addressed by athletes or sports in general.

Marieke Vervoort demonstrates the potential for sports to create a bridge between life and death while at the same time providing a platform for larger societal issues. As an individual athlete, Vervoort is a part of the citizenship of sport that has been involved in providing her with an identity and a source of happiness. She has also found a way to use the status that comes with this citizenship to advocate for issues that are often difficult to discuss in many societies.