Despite being the third-largest sporting event in the world, the Paralympics have always lagged behind the Olympics. The 2020 Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo, which were pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic and will take place Aug. 23 to Sept. 5, 2021, are a historic moment for para-athletes. For the first time ever, Team USA Paralympians will be paid the same as their Olympic counterparts for their medal wins.
In 2018, the board of directors for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) voted to instate equal payouts for all Team USA athletes starting with the Tokyo Games. The decision came 58 years after the Paralympics made their official debut in Rome in 1960.
The decision to make medal pay equal for the Olympics and Paralympics was just one part of a movement to recognize the Paralympics on the same level as the Olympics. The United States Olympic Committee also changed its name to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee in 2019.
“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” USOPC Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said in 2018 when the announcement was first made.
Previously, Paralympic athletes had received $7,500 for every gold medal, $5,250 for a silver and $3,750 for a bronze. Athletes will now receive $37,500 for each gold medal earned at the Paralympics, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze, boosting compensation for some Paralympians by as much as 400%, according to the International Paralympic Committee.
This commitment by the USOPC is making a statement that just because someone has a disability, it does not make them any less valuable or deserving of equal treatment.
Disability pay gaps exist beyond the Olympics. In 2019, the US Census Bureau found that workers with disabilities earned 87 cents for every dollar earned by those without disabilities. It is also legal to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act Section 14(c). However, at least the Paralympics’ equal pay decision is proof to society that members of the disabled community deserve equal pay for their achievements and dedication.