Twelve-time world champion wheelchair racer Cockroft said she was not surprised by their reaction, as the pandemic has caused a “massive step back”, with the Paralympics consistently sidelined in the conversation.
“It was massively [sidelined], every headline – especially in the initial stages of it being postponed – was just ‘the Olympics’,” Cockroft, who is a five-time Paralympic gold-medallist, told Telegraph Sport. “As a Paralympian, you just felt like screaming, ‘We’re here too, this has changed our lives too – this is our job‘.”
“I think, for London , we took such massive steps forward for equality and just equal representation, everything was ‘Olympics and Paralympics’. It kind of felt like in the pandemic we just took this massive step back, and it was suddenly like, actually, just the Olympics is the important one. It’s not helpful.”
Cockroft, 28, said she remained confident she will be there to defend her T34 titles in the 100m, 400m and 800m, and showed remarkable form last month at a meet in Arbon, breaking world records in seven of her nine races. Whether or not Tokyo goes ahead though, Cockroft said she hoped build-up coverage acknowledged her and her fellow Paralympians’ contributions: “It’s literally two words – ‘and Paralympics’. It is not hard. It would be nice if more people were just a bit more thoughtful about the fact that [the postponement] changed our lives as well and affected us a lot. It’s the Olympics and Paralympics, please.”
There are fewer immediate question marks around next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which this week launched applications for 13,000 volunteers. Cockroft will be aiming to compete for a Commonwealth title for the first time, after her classification was added to the schedule for the 2022 event. It will also mark the first time she will form part of a combined able-bodied and para-athlete team at a major event, as the championships have integrated para-sport since 2002. Cockroft said this may be the way forward for other events: “I definitely think more events can be integrated. Maybe not the Olympic and Paralympics because I’m a very proud Paralympian, I’m proud of the movement and how far it’s come.
“But we saw last year that the British Athletics Championships integrated wheelchair racers for the first time ever. If we can do that in a pandemic year, then we can do that any year, and if we can cover it on telly and give it the same coverage, then there’s no reason to step back from that now. We can just keep going forward and integrating those Paralympic events.”
“You always just have to hope that people are going to tune in and people are going to watch what you do. And I think that’s why I’m so excited about the Commonwealth Games – the fact that we’re one team, there’s no Paralympic and able-bodied team – you are just Team England. It’s not ‘he won Olympic gold and you won Paralympic gold’ – we all are [going for] Commonwealth medals. And I think that carries a lot of weight and makes the Commonwealths very, very important.”