Saturday, August 12, 2023

Critical analysis of Special Olympics

    Special Olympics (SO) began in 1968 with the goal of enabling individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in sports and gain visibility in society. While successful in creating opportunities, SO has faced criticism for its original segregated structure. The introduction of Unified Sports aimed to enhance inclusivity by involving athletes with and without disabilities. However, this approach has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes. Existing research on SO has focused on athletes' motivations and positive outcomes, but less on inclusion and dropout reasons.

    Giese et al. (2022) employed a critical perspective that emphasizes ableism (discrimination against disabled individuals) and power dynamics. As such, they revealed how SO, despite its intentions, inadvertently reinforces exclusion through ableist hierarchies. They delved into Special Olympics Germany's (SOD) official documents using discourse analysis to uncover patterns of exclusion. Its objective was to deepen the understanding of disability, inclusion, and exclusion, viewing inclusion as broader opportunities and societal engagement not confined by ability expectations. The study aimed to provide a theoretically informed critique of SO and the role of ability expectations in shaping its practices.

    This perspective contrasts with the Enlightenment notion of a self that is inherently independent. Post-structuralist theorists argue that the self is shaped by influential discourses of its time, context, and authoritative knowledge systems. Subject formation occurs within power dynamics, influenced by knowledge paradigms. Subjects are molded by specific codes and frameworks dictated by societal orders.

    Discourses are systems of thought shaping self-awareness and understanding of the world. They define how a person should think, behave, and pursue goals to be recognized as a subject. Discourses offer and enforce subject formations. Neoliberal body discourses promote the "fit" and "healthy" subject prioritizing self-improvement and productivity. Sports exemplify this discourse-driven structure, where self-enhancement is central.

    These discourses and subject constructions influence individuals' lives as they engage with practices aligned with desired subject identities. Disciplinary practices regulate and shape behaviors, evident in educational and sports settings, objectifying and standardizing individuals. Individuals are directed to achieve within predetermined limits, common in competitive sports.

    The analysis merged the power-critical and ableism-critical perspectives, emphasizing the role of ability expectations in shaping subject formations. Ableism creates hierarchies categorizing individuals based on abilities. These hierarchies influence subject formations and create interconnected divisions. Competitive sports rank individuals based on abilities, excluding those not meeting standards. SO provides a space for individuals with intellectual disabilities to compete but also upholds ableist divisions and exclusions.

    The researchers analyzed SOD documents to uncover subject formations and ability expectations, identifying ableist divisions. Structured content analysis was used, with focus on divisioning and the principle of advancement within the SO sports concept. The documents included Article 1, General Rules, and Sports Concept of SOD, alongside others related to upcoming competitions.

    The principle of advancement dictates athletes must train and participate in qualifying competitions. This introduces normative ability imperatives aligned with the "homo olympicus" concept. Mandatory training inscribes ableist norms into individuals, maintaining ableist divisions. This principle can both reinforce ableist imperatives and provide a space for normalization.

    In conclusion, the study underscores the complex and paradoxical nature of SO's claim to inclusion. It provides avenues for individuals with intellectual disabilities to access subjectification arenas aligned with dominant modes, yet maintains ableist divisions. The study proposes using SO as a laboratory for inclusive sport, challenging ableist divisions and fostering alternative subject formations.

Giese, M., Buchner, T., Mihajlovic, C., & Oldörp, F. (2022). The subject of special olympics - interrogating the inclusive potentials of a sport movement from an ableism-critical perspective. Sport in Society, 25(10), 2178-2192.

No comments:

Post a Comment