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After Oscar: why marketing the Paralympics will survive the Pistorious affair

By Andrew Boulton

March 26, 2013 | 4 min read

From poster boy to killer (albeit his motives are yet to be fully established) the decline of Oscar Pistorious is a sporting self destruction like no other. And when you’re operating in a category that includes an evil cycling drug overlord and a golfer with the sexual proclivities of a Rolling Stone, that is a remarkable achievement.

For a variety of reasons the Pistorious incident has captured the world’s attention. And it would be reductive to assume that all of this attention is fuelled by an inherent human sense of ghoulishness – some people are fascinated by the case through a genuine affection for (and subsequent disappointment in) Pistorious.

And this attitude is one that has been extensively and carefully enhanced through marketing. An athlete of extraordinary ability and character, Pistorious was a sponsor’s dream and it’s little wonder he was thrust so prominently to the forefront of the Paralympic movement.

This isn’t to say that Pistorious was the sole catalyst behind the ever increasing momentum that is propelling Paralympic sport into a state of near parity to its able-bodied cousin – a remarkable feat considering the mainstream Olympics had a head start that can be measured from anywhere between 64 and 2700 years.

But nevertheless, Pistorious assumed the role of ‘poster boy’ for the Games. His words, actions and life (at least the parts we were allowed to know about) were the very embodiment of the Paralympic spirit. He was the athlete who was not content to be a sideshow to mainstream athletics – he would compete amongst able bodied athletes and lead the Paralympics into a state of equal recognition.

And now, given what we know (and more importantly, what we do not know), where lies a sporting community that invested so much in aligning themselves inextricably with Oscar Pistorious?

The answer to that is, seemingly, Paralympic sport continues to be in good health. An extraordinary amount of goodwill has been built up since the 2012 games, with Paralympic sport captivating the world every bit as much as the Olympics that preceded it.

In this country, a bold and remarkably well thought out campaign from Channel 4 (the Paralympics’ official broadcaster) generated an incredible amount of excitement before and during the games. The campaign blazed with attitude and helped instigate a major shift in audience perception. These athletes weren’t in any way ‘less’, they were individuals who started with less yet gave so much more.

And during the Games themselves Oscar Pistorious did not light up the competition in the way it was expected. Beaten in the 200 metres and then giving a surly assessment of the fairness of his rival’s performance. And then defeated in the 100 metres by a home grown hero in the form of Jonnie Peacock. It became clear that Oscar’s position at the centre of the movement had become more an accolade of personality than performance.

Paralympics has moved onwards and upwards, albeit to a large extent on the back of Oscar Pistorious’ achievement and application. They owe him a debt for how far they have climbed and how far that ascension will no doubt continue. But the damage done by the Pistorious affair will visit itself upon the individual, not upon the movement.

@Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency.

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