How sport can help overcome disabilities

Paralympic champion Michaël Jéremiasz wants to raise awareness and change mentalities with We are people, a great documentary that will be broadcast on Canal+ on Sunday (9pm).

Did you know that just over a century ago, people with intellectual disabilities were euthanized shortly after birth? Do you know Rosemary Kennedy, the long-hidden sister of JFK, the former President of the United States because she suffers from mental disorders? In 1h37, the documentary we are humans The aim is to raise awareness of the issue of disability. With the red thread she maintains the connection to the practice of sport. Directed by Philippe Fontana and produced by Michaël Jéremiasz, Paralympic wheelchair tennis champion in Beijing (2008), this film, which is by turns edifying, moving, unrelentingly critical and surprising, multiplies the train of thought. Sometimes even to the point of frustration, so great is the desire to learn more about certain speakers on certain topics.

Philippe’s desire was to provide a tool in the public space that would tell this little-known story and provide keys to understanding that sport is not just about full stadiums and rich footballers.‘ explains Jeremiasz. “Sport is a powerful tool whose influence and power in our societies are still poorly measured. In relation to people with disabilities, it is a political and social tool, it is a public health issue. That’s what we wanted to tell.This issue is all the more important given that more than a billion people on earth live with disabilities, ie 15% of the world’s population. Spent the first fifteen very didactic minutes giving context, particularly from a historical perspective. We are humans delves into the heart of the subject through various speakers unknown to the general public but all of whom deserve to be known, such as high jumper Arnie Boldt, navigator Damien Séguin, snowboarder Amy Purdy…

The list is long and at the same time so short of these champions, who are sometimes glorified with condescension or paternalism. “Too often there are only two approaches to disability: either extremely compassionate, or conversely, we turn Paralympic athletes into superheroes‘ says the tennis player. “But there is almost never a middle ground. We don’t say why access to sport is so important for everyone. Why exercise can literally change lives. Top sport is only a niche.And this continues, always with the same conviction and the same passion:Sport is above all a tool of freedom. Of course, the performances of the two are impressive. To see how a blind person can run errands in the middle of the forest for ten hours in complete autonomy is incredible. But sport is not just that. What I remember from my career as a top athlete are not just the achievements, the titles, but all the doors that sports practice has opened for me. Everything she has allowed me to do in my life as a man, regain confidence, discover my new limits, become independent.»

In the documentation, my little story serves the big one.

Michael Jeremiasz

From the pioneers who were deaf before the previous Games in Paris in 1924 to the next, to be held in the City of Light two years from now, the documentary examines a century of sporting practice seen through the prism of disability. Disabilities, to be more precise, that’s how much the film starts with the individual Jéremiasz to talk about the universal. “In the documentation, my little story serves the big one. That’s why there are many allusions to what I was allowed to experience, because I had this desire to also start from what I know and go further. But there was no purely personal interest, other than starting from my gaze, from my experience, to offer the general public a reflection much broader than a single person’s itinerary. This is one of the reasons why we have dealt with the topic from an international perspective and have not limited ourselves to a single disability. We wanted to have a more global approach.»

Real superheroes?

Above all, Jéremiasz wanted to get out of the extremes, especially this approach that consists of turning disabled sports champions into superheroes: “It took to bring this to light for us that for the 2012 Olympics, the English created a campaign of ‘supermen’ to introduce the Paralympic athletes. Like we have superhuman abilities. It worked well, so much the better. But when that’s done, what do we do? And most importantly, make us look like superheroes, okay. But how do we explain that sometimes finding a job or going shopping is harder for us than having a gold medal? So yes, we can be elite athletes who can achieve incredible feats, but we are also excluded who cannot go to certain places with their children because they can deny us access because they are not suitable. We can arrive at a nightclub with friends and not be able to enter. I can give you a billion examples, although I’m fortunate enough to live quite a privileged life due to my low profile, so imagine that for mere mortals?»

I can tell you that behind every Paralympic winner is their share of neurosis and suffering, just like every human being.

Michael Jeremiasz

And the 2012 Paralympic champion concluded: “When we do amazing things, it needs to be said, but not because we’re disabled, it’s because the performance is crazy. Our daily life is not as beautiful as you would like to see. Our daily life isn’t about winning a medal and showing incredible courage to get back on your feet after a terrible life accident. What defines us is not to have in some way sublimated what has happened to us. I can tell you that behind every Paralympic winner is their share of neurosis and suffering, just like every human being. They aren’t superheroes. They are just people who have worked very hard to be successful. Otherwise, like you, they may have problems with their couple or with their children. Until we succeed in making people understand that we must value our sporting performance for what it is, namely sporting performance. The rest of our life is a banality apart from the obstacles that we and our disability face. And if you are not responsible for what happens to us, you can make our everyday life much more pleasant and easier. For me that is the problem.That deserves even more than a 1h37 documentary, even if it’s already a great goal.

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