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Simmonds praises Comm Games’ integration of parasports

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Holding the Commonwealth Games along with their largest parasports program to date has been a success and should be replicated at other major events, five-time Paralympic gold medalist Ellie Simmonds said on Friday.

However, the swimmer does not want the model to be used in the Olympics, as the Paralympics are an event big enough to be staged alone on the world stage.

This year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – the largest integrated multisport event – have sold more than 1.4 million tickets so far, including for para-swimming and athletics.

“It just fell into place… and people loved it, not just in the stadiums but on TV,” Simmonds said. “I would like to see it at future Commonwealth Games and also World Cups. (Also with) the Europeans. That would be absolutely amazing.

“But I think the Olympic and Paralympic Games are different. The Paralympics are one of the greatest sporting events in themselves.”

Simmonds, 27, who is a board member of the Birmingham Games, said the successful integration was partly due to the reduced number of classifications for the event.

She said it’s important that a wider mix of athletes are given the opportunity to compete, which is why she believes standalone Paralympics should remain.

“We want to celebrate that with the Paralympics. It’s an incredible 10 days of competition with all sorts of classifications,” said Simmonds. “The integration into the Commonwealth Games is amazing. (But) it would not be possible from a logistical point of view. I think with all the classifications, if it was included in the Olympics it would mean the Olympics would last months.

The importance of inclusion and diversity was a focus of the Birmingham Games, which end on Monday.

England diver Tom Daley, one of the last baton bearers at the opening ceremony, used his platform to deliver a message about the intolerance that more than half of the nations participating in the Commonwealth Games have towards LGBT communities.

England's Mark Swan reacts after a successful lift during the Men's Lightweight Para-Powerlifting Final at the Commonwealth Games at the NEC in Birmingham, England, Thursday, August 4, 2022.

Women’s rights have come under the spotlight, even in countries where women are discouraged from competing after marriage. Ama Agbeze, who led England to a gold medal in netball on the Gold Coast in 2018, hopes the Commonwealth Games can have a positive impact on places like the Pacific island nations she has visited during her career.

“That’s definitely a problem they’re facing (there),” Agbeze said. “But I think it’s changing more and more…People are starting to look up to them and realize that they’re going somewhere and they can put our country on the map.” And so things slowly begin to change.

“It may not be in their generation. But for future generations, I think changes will begin. We’re still fighting for equality and hopefully the more we jump up and down and the more we scream the faster we move forward. Hopefully that will happen around the world.”

Agbeze, also a board member in Birmingham, said the discussion should be respectful.

“Obviously we have our own culture here and we expect people to come here and hold on to our culture,” she said. “So I think it’s about acknowledging someone’s culture and then basically showing them the options that are available to them and saying, ‘That’s another option. Maybe you can accept it.’”

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