Wikinews interviews Spain's most decorated Paralympian, Teresa Perales
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Spain — On Thursday, Wikinews traveled to Zaragoza, Spain to interview the nation's most decorated Paralympian and Athlete Council representative . A wide range of topics about the Paralympics and sport in Spain were discussed including the evolution of Paralympic sport, disability sport classification, funding support across all levels of elite sport including the Paralympics and Olympics, the role of sportspeople in politics, sponsorship issues, and issues of gender in Spanish sport.,
Evolution of the Paralympics
((Wikinews)) Hi this is Laura Hale and I'm interviewing Teresa Perales (Raystorm translating), the most decorated Spanish paralympian of all time, and we're in Zaragoza. And you're from Zaragoza, right?
- ((es)) :Yes, I'm from Zaragoza.
((WN)) So, are you confident that Madrid is going to get , and are you going to stay around?
- Teresa Perales : (laughs) I'd love to. I participated in the bid for Madrid ((es)) . It was a pity we didn't get them, and I hope now it is our chance. But I don't think I will be competing in them.
((WN)) You first competed in . Has there been a big change from 2000 to that you've noticed like in terms of the atmosphere, or even the level of sport and issues of ?
- Teresa Perales : Yes, especially in the level of sport. Our sport is more professional, there are more countries that dedicate more resources, and it is much more professional than in 2000. I've seen an evolution, in ((es)) times that were gold medal now didn't make it to the finals. Another very important change has been the media coverage, at an international level and specially in Spain. Here in Spain for the first time we've had more than 14 hours of daily coverage of the Games. We've had specific programmes and general coverage, and that has been completely different than in , , Sydney and previous others. It's been the first time that we've been featured in the main pages of newspapers and opened the first minutes of the tv news. Regarding organization, I don't think there's been much change. I think Sydney organised the Games wonderfully well. Athens wasn't very good, at all. Beijing was amazing: the organization was A plus, volunteers were A plus, everyone was A plus. It was fantastic. And London was like... I'm now using a new term, which it no longer is integration or normalization, it is naturally. As in, now everyone does see us the same, just exactly like the Olympians. Not for our disabilities. The biggest change I've seen is how people look at me, for example, it now is: I've won 22 medals. I am the sportsperson with more medals in Spanish History. And this has been recognised at an institutional and social level. This year I will receive the Gran Cruz al Mérito Deportivo, the highest honor that a sportsperson can achieve in Spain. It never before had been conceded to a paralympic sportsperson, ever. Many national awards, which weren't possible for sportspeople with disabilities, national awards from newspapers, associations, clubs or town halls. It's a radical change.
((WN)) I went to London, and the quality of sport — you didn't go there and say, that's a person in a wheelchair. You went, fall down guy in a wheelchair, because the sport was so great. There was no embarrassment like the Olympics where they let the people from swim in the pool. [The level of sport] was very equitable [at the Paralympics]. In Australia, there was discussion amongst the Paralympians with the issue of sponsorship because sport is becoming so elite. Do you think Paralympians should be getting sponsorship and on the same level that their able-bodied counterparts are?
- Teresa Perales : Of course. Yes, I hope, some day. Here in Spain... I don't know well other countries, how they work, I know the financial recognition they get after the Games, but I don't know the level of sponsorship the sportspeople have. ((es))
((WN)) Yeah I was asking you about Spain, the Australians are why I asked.
- Teresa Perales : Ah, ok. In Spain we have a law, which has to be improved, which is the Law on Patronage ("Ley del Mecenazgo") which regulates the way in which companies sponsor a sportsperson or an event and receive tax deductions in exchange. For example, sponsoring the ADO Paralympian Plan. It's a special plan for Olympians and a plan for Paralympians. The financial support for a Paralympian and for an Olympian is very different. The amount for a Paralympian is a tenth of that of an Olympian. For example, all my medals in London, which were a gold, three silvers and two bronzes, are financially equivalent to one Olympic bronze medal. Very different. Companies prefer to sponsor the event, the plan, before the sportsperson, because they receive more advantages for that. This is in the case of the Paralympians: for Olympians, it is more usual for companies to sponsor sportspeople. For Beijing and London I had a sponsor, Arena, the swimsuit brand, who gave me swimsuits to compete with. For London they gave me three. [Laughs]((es))
((WN)) Is there any difference between men and women?
- Teresa Perales : Only in the financial support of the clubs. Of course, that doesn't affect us because we do not get money from the clubs. For example, Mireia Belmonte has an ADO sponsorhip, a Federations sponsorship, and well now she has problems with her club because she wanted to get the same amount of money as the men, and so she left the club. But she gets money from three places: ADO, Federation, and club. In our case it's ADO only.((es))
((WN)) In the US, the system is, you need sponsorship to get to the elite level. In Australia, the government funds Olympians and Paralympians equally. Like players got 7,000 each, so it is interesting to find out how Spain differs.
- Teresa Perales : Yes, but then, here in Spain we have to make a disctintion: we have the ADO Paralympic Plan since 2005, and the first time we perceived money, rewards for medals and ADO Plan, was after Beijing. Very recently.((es))
((WN)) As someone who watched the Paralympics, classification was a huge issue. Mallory Weggemann was an American [Paralympic swimmer] who got reclassified at the Games and the Americans were really upset, and the Australians have said classifiers have won them more medals than the athletes themselves. How important is classification for you and are you happy with the system that exists for swimming?
- Teresa Perales : Well, since I am also a representative of the Athlete's Council at the International Paralympic Committee, this is a topic we have discussed there. We think that it is important than in the Olympic year, especially in the last months, and above all during the Games, there should be no classifications. Exactly to avoid these cases, in which sportspeople go up a category or down a category, and mess up the ranking. There have been many cases, in Spain we've had cases of people losing a medal because of a reclassification. We are worried about that and by the way in which events, the places to hold the competition, are selected during the Paralympic Games. ((es))
((WN)) In Atlanta it was really bad...
- Teresa Perales : Yes, some even were unable to compete because they were not able to get to the place of the event.((es))
((WN)) Some of the people with the Paralympic movement think understanding classification is key towards moving the Games forward, like how do you convey that to the public, how classification works, so when somebody sees you, an , they go, 'we got times like this, but the S1 swimmers, this, and I can't see much of a difference'.
- Teresa Perales : Yes, that is one of the problems we have. In fact, it is the biggest problem for having in the future an open class system, a system in which all classes were able to compete together. One of the issues that was being evaluated since before London had to do with the events, not the place but the event, for example 50m butterfly, why now yes and before no, or why before yes and now not? One of the systems proposed, to avoid events from having to disappear, is unifying several categories. In other words, to have one class, but open. ((es))
((WN)) Like skiiing?
- Teresa Perales : Yes. It's similar. Yes, yes, similar to that. They are thinking of doing something similar in swimming, athletics, cycling... in sports with many people. This arises because we have a limited number of people who can participate in the Games, which is 4,000. 4,200, total. It's 10,000 Olympians, while we are 4,000. And this is an agreement with the Olympic Committee. The Paralympic Committee makes a deal with the Olympic Committee, and that's why we cannot exceed 4,000, and why some events have to be eliminated. To eliminate events, there is the option to concentrate the classes. But there is a big problem, because the public would not understand me competing against a swimmer who is only missing a hand, because she would obviously beat me. Imagine that I really do beat her not because I arrive before her, but because my time, due to the correction percentages or whatever, is held to be the winner, even if however I came in last position. ((es))
((WN)) That happened in cycling. Set a World Record, did not win a medal.
- Teresa Perales : Yes, I know. Yes, but they have, like in ski. In ski what they do is, time goes slower depending in which category you are in, so that at the end it is the same. Then the public really see that the time is going down and they are seeing a timer, seeing the time slowing down, but at the end they are seeing the same time. Then they see who's won because they can see the time. The problem happens in sports in which several of us compete simultaneously, eight lanes. It's difficult to understand.((es))
((WN)) Have you ever had any problems with in your career where they've said...?
- Teresa Perales : No. At first I was in New Zealand, I was S6, and then in 2000? No, in 1999, in the European Championships, I was reclassified, and now I am S5, SB4, and SM5, because they saw my arm is not very good.((es))
Mixing sport and politics
((WN)) In the US, there is a view that celebrities and sportspeople should stay out of politics because... they're dumb.
- Teresa Perales : [Laughs]. Okay, this doesn't happen in Spain.((es))
((WN)) Should sportspeople be involved and do Paralympians especially, should they be more involved because of the nature of the sport they are doing in politics, and is it something in Spain and should be done elsewhere in the world... Should there be a call for more Paralympians in politics? Because you protested in Madrid...
- Teresa Perales : Yes!((es))
((WN)) And you were a politician.
- Teresa Perales : I was, I was. [Laughs] No, I worked in politics, I really wasn't a politician. I believe that when you want things to change, and when you believe that there is something that has to change, you need to be part of the change. And that's why I entered politics. That's why I think that it is important that people get involved in politics. And not only... In my case, I didn't get in for sports politics, I got in for general politics, because I believed there were several things that could be improved or that should be changed, and that's why I got in. And I believe that sportspeople are very qualified, because, let me give an example. Me, that I spend seven days a week, six hours every day training, seeing the floor and walls, I just can do whatever I want in this life.[Laughs] I know I am not going to go down in the dumps if I have a problem, because while training I know that things may not work out the first day, the second, the third, but someday they will, right? And that's what sportspeople contribute to any job, and especially to politics. I defend what sportspeople can contribute, I've given conference talks on what a sportsperson can contribute to a company, and what a sportsperson can contribute to politics is the same because it is also a job and a company, right? It's how to manage resources: I manage my resources every day to get the most out of me. I also manage my emotions, because I am a whole. I am a physical whole, but also an emotional whole. And I know I can make decisions in a matter of seconds. I do it every time I compete. My 50m event takes 35 seconds. It's 35 seconds. Four years, seven days a week, six hours every day for 35 seconds. So I can make decisions and work really well in politics or in whatever I want to. ((es))
((WN)) Because they are disabled, and the way society treats people with disabilities, sets Paralympians off from able-bodied athletes, does that make it special emphasis that they should be more engaged in the political process than someone like Michael Phelps?
- Teresa Perales : Yes, because... I had something very clear when I worked in politics, and it's that you cannot make policies without the people to whom they are directed. It's necessary for the people to whom they are destined work in politics, because that will ensure they are right. If not, no. And the people with disabilities, especially sportspeople with disabilities, that we care least of all about the disabilities really, we've had to overcome so many things, that we are able to contribute so much more.((es))
Funding Spanish sport
((WN)) The Spanish Paralympic Committee is supported primarily by the Government?
- Teresa Perales : No, for us it is the Government and companies. Both do the ADO Paralympic Plan.((es))
((WN)) Do they give you as an athlete the support that you need to be successful?
- Teresa Perales : No. No, absolutely not. I don't have a lane for swimming every day, only for me. I have to share it with other, not athletes, not swimmers, people, who come to the swimming pool and then swim, or try to swim. I cannot afford to pay a lane exclusively for my use. It's 30 euros per hour. I have to pay the ticket for the swimming pool, I have to pay all my travels, not with the national team, but my travels for qualifiers, and I can't pay my coach, who is in another swimming pool, in another center, because I can't. Okay, I have to be fair: the ADO Plan pays me 1,900 euros monthly, but I'm a mother, I have a family. I have to pay the school, everything. So this is not enough for me. I have to pay someone to take care of my child when I am competing, when I am in the stages. I remember this year, preparing London, I needed to be out of home for 22 days, twice, ok? I needed to pay someone for being with my baby, and it's very expensive. So it's not enough. I win gold so I have this kind of money — is the same [as] sixth place in [the] Olympics. Someone who was sixth at the Olympics has the same as me with a gold medal. I was recently at the Congress of Deputies, and I was talking about this.((es))
((WN)) Is the Spanish Paralympic Committee working to fix this? Is it one of their goals to adjust this problem?
- Teresa Perales : Yes, but the Spanish Paralympic Committee are... Let me count.((es))
((WN)) They said six...
- Teresa Perales : Yeah. [Laughs] It is true that the companies who support us, who support the ADO Paralympian Plan, it's been easier to get them to sign again after London than those of the Olympians. But then again, it's because the quantities are smaller!((es))
Being an elite female athlete
((WN)) In other interviews you talk about your family life. That's interesting, but you are an elite female athlete, and there's other interesting questions. Is there anything...?
- Teresa Perales : As female Paralympians, I think we are one, two, three, four. Four Paralympian mothers. Only. That we go to the Games. ((es))
((WN)) How many women total, then?
- Teresa Perales : Puf, I don't know. It is very difficult, you know, to be a mother, train, compete, be at the stages, take care of the kid... sometimes it's a balancing act. Apart from the physical changes that take place when you become a mother. ((es))
((WN)) Paralympics in some sports have many fewer women than men, especially skiing. Is that something that exists in swimming, and does it hurt the quality of sport? Because the men in the skiing are like, the women, they are so few of them, they embarrass us, is that something that exists on a swimming level?
- Teresa Perales : Yes. But not only in Spain, in the whole world.((es))
((WN)) People say that women don't swim as well as the men, because there's so few?
- Teresa Perales : We are very few. In Spain we had a problem before the Games due to the number of spots given to the Spanish women swimmers, which were a third of those offered to the men. And we had female swimmers who made the qualifying time but could not go to the Games. And in Spain qualifiers are hard, there are two kinds: A minimum and B minimum. I'm talking about swimming, athletics... Especially swimming. B minimum is until the eighth position, A minimum is until the third. So, there we women who would have made the finals, and could not go. But this is not a recent problem, it's because of classification, at the World Championships... it's not only a problem in Spain. It's a problem that women do not participate as much as men. I really believe it is a family problem, a cultural problem, and it is a problem that comes from women traditionally doing more things than men and dedicating more time to their families than to training. A man doesn't have to stop to have a child, usually has more support for the house things, and yet however women don't.((es))
((WN)) In Australia they say, female sportswomen, fantastic, more medals! So they go for them. And that's not the case here?
- Teresa Perales : No. Not men or women. Only the medals. So if there's a man who wins more medals, well, okay, the man. The problem is that this has to be potentiated before. It's like the people with high support needs. There are fewer participants with high support needs, because it is much easier to tend to people with lesser disabilities. It's like that.((es))
((WN)) You're really fascinating. It's a completely different perspective. Is there anything else people should know about Paralympics in Spain, or you?
- Teresa Perales : Well, to be fair I should say that my case is special because I'm in ((es)) , in Zaragoza, we're very few sportspeople with disabilities that make the Games. It's not the same a sportsperson who lives in a city with a High Performance Center, they have it better than me.
((WN)) I want to thank you a lot, thank you!