Sports and Social Change

While everyone is talking brackets and buckets (and even spring training!) I'm still basking in the glow of the Winter Paralympic Games that wrapped up this past weekend in Russia. And rightly so. The coverage in the US was a dramatic improvement over past Paralympic games, winter or summer. Feedback and comments from athletes, coaches and staff was overwhelmingly positive, even with at-times "sketchy" snow conditions for several of the alpine events.

Before that glow slowly fades, I wanted to share several stories from in and around the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games that caught my eye. They bring to light important issues around all sports - be it for people with disabilities or not - that resonate with the underlying vision of what Sports and Social Change is about...


With the geo-political controversy over Russia's involvement in Crimea continue to evolve, themes of both war and peace were most definitely center stage during the Paralympic Winter Games.



Ukrainian athletes hide their medals at Sochi Pararlympic Winter Games

The Sochi Paralympics, Ukraine and the Olympic Truce
(via The Nation)
But the Olympic Truce is like a unicorn bought with a bucket of Bitcoin. Just because you believe in it, doesn’t make it real. Numerous countries have steamrolled the truce. The United States, of course, never curtailed the wars and occupations in Afghanistan or Iraq for the benefit of the Olympics. During the 2008 Beijing Games, as well, Russia and Georgia continued their battle over South Ossetia. The Games have been about as effective at stopping the violence of war as a West Bank checkpoint.




Paralympics, at Peace as Wars Wind Down
(via New York Times)
That United States military athletes competed in all six disciplines at these Paralympics is not just a coincidence. Over the past five years, the U.S.O.C. has redoubled its efforts to survey the military population for potential Paralympians. Buoyed by a surge in Nordic skiing, the United States team’s ranks of current and former soldiers swelled to 18 from five at Vancouver in 2010.

The IPC took the same heat as the IOC from many for not addressing Russia's ongoing issues with human rights abuse. IPC President Sir Philip Craven held his ground saying that "sport" is the core of what the Paralympics stand for: "That (human rights abuse) is not something we get involved with," Craven said. "We have too much on our plate elsewhere." While I do see his point about staying focused on the athletes and the competition, that line of thinking is at odds with empowering people who are still marginalized in many parts of the world, Russia included.

Human rights not key in choosing future host cities, IPC says
Sir Philip Craven says human rights mean different things to different people

(via Associated Press)
"That (human rights abuse) is not something we get involved with — we have too much on our plate elsewhere," Craven said. "Of course we respect what people would demand, organizations involved with that and we observe what's going on but we are about sport," he added. "But if the performances of our athletes change perceptions relative to people with an impairment, automatically that can have a further changing effect on people's thoughts and people's processes."

Paralympics: Leadership Needs to Embrace Rights, Inclusion
President’s Comments Run Counter to Principles

(via Human Rights Watch)
The IPC has highly praised Russia for its progress in creating a barrier-free environment in Sochi. However, people with disabilities arriving for the Paralympics last week found infrastructural barriers in Sochi, so that wheelchair users – athletes and visitors alike – were not able to navigate Sochi and the Olympic Park without assistance. Human Rights Watch research and advocacy since 2007 has documented other serious human rights abuses linked to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Abuses included forced evictions without proper compensation, exploitation of workers, including migrant workers, on Olympic sites, and pressure and harassment of activists and journalists who criticized the games’ preparations.



The US Paralympic team featured two athletes with deep ties to Russia who were making their Winter Paralympic debuts. Tatyana McFadden, a much decorated wheelchair racer with her "grand slam" last year along with 10 medals in Summer Paralympic Games, and Oksana Masters, a bronze medalist in rowing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, were both orphans in Russia before being adopted by US families. Their athletic success is only half of the picture, as both stories bring to light issues Russia must still confront for people with disabilities as well as a ban on adoption by foriegners.



Paralympians a Reminder of Foreign Adoptions Issue
(via The Moscow Times)
"There is very little domestic adoption in Russia for children with disabilities," Roza said in a telephone interview. "The few parents who adopt will most often choose a child without a disability. There is no way children with disabilities can become Paralympians if they do not have a family to provide them with opportunities." According to Roza, children with disabilities often struggle to develop in an orphanage environment. The "family factor" is key to their growth.

Sochi Paralympics confronts Russia's attitude towards disabled
Many people still isolated by lack of elevators, ramps

(via CBC News)
Human Rights Watch's Mazzarino believes more could have been done in the years leading up to the Sochi Games if the global community, including the International Paralympic Committee, put more pressure on Russia. “The window of opportunity for pushing Russia in Sochi has passed because the Paralympics are upon us now,” said Mazzarino. The International Paralympic Committee says it doesn’t take an activist role in making these kinds of changes, though it has a “property that has the ability to change the world” by breaking down stereotypes, said Spence.



To close on a more upbeat note, the past two Paralympic Games have definitely raised awareness of Adaptive Sports. Athletes with disabilities are are being seen as just that - athletes first. And as the visibility of these athletes continues to rise, the question is will we see more endorsement/sponsorship opportunities akin to what professional athletes receive? That financial support is much needed here, as for many athletes in adaptive sports there is limited funding from NGBs for professional coaching and travel to elite level events. Add to that the costs for much of the high-performance adaptive equipment - the mono-skis used by racers in the Sochi games cost well over $10,000 each - and funding from sponsors becomes a key factor in the continued progression of adaptive sports.

Sochi Paralympics: Corporate sponsorship the ‘last barrier’ for athletes
Companies starting to sponsor para-athletes but still spend less

(via CBC News)
"Whenever I had a new sponsor, I would always tell them I don’t want you to sponsor me because I’m in a wheelchair. I want you to sponsor me because I’m a great athlete and I have a great story that can really reflect the values of your company. That’s how athletes want it to be. They don’t want charity because they are Paralympians or have a disability." (Chantal Petitclerc, five-time Canadian Paralympian, 21 Paralympic medals, including 14 golds, in wheelchair racing.)

New sit-ski sled technology propelling Canadian athletes at Sochi Paralympics
(via The Canadian Press)
"There are a lot of things in the fine-tuning and the leverage that are a little more complicated for my simple brain," said sit-skier Josh Dueck, who won Paralympic silver in the men's downhill in/on one of the sleds on Saturday. "Bottom line is it makes it a smoother ride, more consistent and it's safer for me to challenge the (racing) line and go faster and keep up with the competition." Dueck said the difference in sleds has been night and day since the high-performance program first received funding from Own the Podium back in 2007.

The Intrepid Paralympic Racers on Their Skiing Machines
(via New York Times)
US Paralympic Sit-Skier Heath Calhoun sits in a molded seat atop a suspension system with a modified motorcycle shock. Built in is a block shaped like a boot sole, which then clicks into a regular ski binding. The suspension acts as a buffer between the rider and the bucket and the snow and the ski... The performance of the shock is critical, but it comes into play more on uneven courses, such as the one Calhoun encountered Sunday. He wants it loose enough to slow down the suspension’s reaction, which increases his control, but not so loose that he cannot absorb the bumps.



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When does someone know they've "arrived?" Is there a moment in time when you look around and seemingly out of nowhere, somebody or something has bubbled up into the public consciousness? For the Paralympic Games and athletes with disabilities, that moment may be approaching faster than a slalom gate.

The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi are heading into the final weekend, already hitting record ticket sales for a winter event and racking up broadcast and streaming views well beyond what was seen - and quite frankly technologically possible - four years ago in Vancouver. Just 18 months ago, the 2012 Paralympic Summer Games in London marked what was certainly a watershed moment in raising the profile of sports for people with disabilities, and the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games have been able to build on that momentum through a nice mix of emerging corporate partnerships,expanded broadcast coverage as well as some clever merchandising.

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Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014

The Paralympic Winter Games are set to begin later this week in Sochi, Russia. There are 5 sports scheduled over the course of 9 days, including Alpine Skiing & Snowboarding, Cross Country Skiing, Biathlon, Sled Hockey and Curling, with over 575 athletes representing 45 countries. Opening Ceremonies will be broadcast live in the US on Friday 3/07 at 11:00am EST.

If you'd like to stay connected to all that's going on with the Paralympic Winter Games, here are some details and links to follow...

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2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Week two of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics brought to light more stories that resonated with us around social causes and global issues. Some of the narratives around equality and inclusion from week one continued to develop and the political turmoil in the Ukraine reinvigorated a dormant "cold war" message of Russia vs. the West.

And while there were criticisms of NBC's coverage (aren't there always?), the network's willingness to acknowledge rather than avoid some of the most pressing issues should be applauded. Add to that features in the second week on US Paralympian Jessica Long, Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke, and the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv tragedy, and we give NBC high marks. Some may see these merely as tear-jerking ploys to attract viewers, but we saw each as an opportunity to shine a light on important people & events the general sports public in the US rarely notices.

Here are just a few of the stories we tracked during week two of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics...

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For many nonprofit orgs, the Google Ad Grants program is a great way to get seen across the web. But without proper management, their generous $10,000 worth of Ad Words credit can disappear without doing much good. Understanding keyword selection and proper bidding are the domain of the top Search Engine Marketing (SEM) firms. And luckily, we've found one that wants to help YOU do more with your Google Ad Grant...

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Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

We're at the half way point of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and several interesting stories, issues and personalities have come to light. While much has been made of these games being a public relations platform for Vladimir Putin's new Russia, juxtaposed against a dark cloud of a terrorism threats and human rights protests, behind it all are the athletes who compete for country, for personal glory and achievement, and at times, for a greater good.

These Olympic Games have brought us intriguing sub-stories around issues both global and hyper-local. Some will only play out over the next week's worth of events, others may find this moment in time as a jumping off point for a longer and deeper discussion on larger issues such as LGBT equality & inclusion or climate change. Either way, these games are worth watching.

Here's a quick look at what caught our attention during week one in Sochi...

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In all fairness, these aren't officially "Super Bowl" ads but both of these advertisements - one for Broncos fans and one for Seahawks fans - show the power of sports in our society. "Kara Christian's salute" captures the true essence of what it means to be a fan and how the emotional connection to a favorite team provides strength even in the most dire of circumstances. And Derrick Coleman's "Trust Your Power" ad for Duracell delivers the message of overcoming the obstacles of a disability and pursuing your goals regardless of any perceived limitations.

Cancer-Stricken Fan Thanks the Denver Broncos in Amazing Newspaper Ad

"I don't care what USA Today's Ad Meter says after the game. Kara Christian's ad wins the Super Bowl this year."




























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Super Bowl week in New York is in full swing and in true NYC style there are many events with tremendous stars happening all across the region, from the Food Network's Ultimate Tailgate Experience, to EA Sports Madden XX Super Bowl Party and the 15th Annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Madison Square Garden. Landmarks like Times Square and Bryant Park have been turned into temporary bases for ESPN, CBS Sports, and other major outlets trying to capitalize on the bright lights of NYC and SB 48.

In addition to the flashy parties and celeb watching, there are a host of events being run by the Super Bowl Committee geared towards giving back and having a positive effect on the NYC area. These include rebuilding a neighborhood, networking events for non-profits, and the all important blood and coat drives.

Below are a few examples of what's going on in and around the metro NY area this week. These events are a great way to give back to the community and also interact with some prominent NFL players, executives and fellow football fans who share a passion for giving back. So before you sit down to enjoy SB 48, take a few minutes to see how you can make a difference prior to the big game...

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a Charter. This document outlines the principles, functions and guidelines behind the games, those who organize them and those who compete. By definition, the IOC Charter establishes the principles and values of Olympism, serves as IOC law, and defines the rights and obligations of the 4 main constituents  of the Olympic movement: The IOC, International Federations, National Olympic Committees and the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

The Charter has been invoked several times over the issue of discrimination, most recently around female athletes from Saudi Arabia being prevented from participating in the London 2012 Summer Games by their own country. A big focus was on Principle 6 in the Charter, which states "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

Unless you're in Russia.

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This is my final segment on “Defining Sports and Social Change” and here I’ll be shining a light where sports are used as a platform for advocacy, awareness and fundraising campaigns. This is the category most casual sports fans and active “weekend warriors” are familiar with, where we see sports as a central, unifying platform to rally an audience and raise awareness and/or funds around a particular cause.

Probably the most common examples are the thousands of run/walks, marathons, cycling and endurance races that happen every year, raising funds and awareness around a myriad of diseases and critical social issues. Run/Walk/Ride events have proven to be effective fundraisers and are used by some of the largest nonprofits and cause programs in the world including American Cancer Society, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Alzheimer's Association.

Also falling into this category is a majority of the efforts we see in professional sports. The major pro sports leagues, teams and athletes are often central figures in campaigns and initiatives designed to bring fans together around a particular cause. The NFL Crucial Catch program promoting Breast Cancer awareness, and the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer program during the month of October are good examples of these initiatives, as are ongoing campaigns from many individual athlete foundations and team foundations.

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