Francova: "Paralympic Games just fairytales for adults"

Pavla Francova

This week the Czech Republic's highly successful Paralympic athletes came home from Athens, with 16 gold medals, 8 silver and seven bronze. One of this country's best all-time Paralympic athletes is Pavla Francova, a former cross-country skier and middle-distance runner. She became blind at the age of fifteen and now at 32, Pavla is an artist, illustrating stories written by disabled people. She doesn't regret giving up her blossoming career in sport.

I met Pavla at a meeting organised by the organisation Okamzik- Blink of an Eye, which supports disabled as well as sighted people in the Czech Republic. The organisation's work includes publishing books to help sighted people understand the blind and their needs. Pavla works for the organisation, illustrates its books and does her best to bring the two worlds closer to each other.

"Czech people were not used to meeting disabled people and that is why they have all the reactions and all the uncertainty in the contact. But more and more I am beginning to think that it is really deeper and that it is related to the overall state of relaxing or internal state of certainty."

Based on her personal experience, she thinks that Czechs are not as content, happy and relaxed as Americans and feel guilty when they don't know how to help disabled people. Now they meet blind people much more often than they used to before the year 1989, when people with disabilities were kept away from the rest of society, and they have to learn to deal with them.

"Czech people very often avoid direct communication or direct interaction. When travelling by tram, they don't say: 'Why are you sitting? You are young so you should make a place for me, you should stand up.' Then I could answer: 'Actually, I am blind and I can't see you. I would be very happy to make a space for you.' Czech people just stand above me and say 'Oh that is horrible, these young people are horrible.' Then I just assume that it is something related to me."

Illustrating books has become Pavla's priority and she doesn't much like returning to memories of the Paralympic Games, where she won several medals in 1992. She disdains heroic stories published in media: they create Paralympic heroes but they make disabled people even more distant from the rest; and they create the false myth that a disabled person is automatically a good person.

"To me it creates an artificial world. Ordinary people can relate to it only through distance. To me it is like creating fairytales for adults. I do not want to follow this path of being a hero through results which happen to be sports medals, Paralympic or Olympic. To me it is too empty. The top sport, top athletics is a myth. To me it is another type of business in the world."

Pavla herself parted with top-level sport shortly after her successes. She felt that sport would lead her into a narrow and shallow life-style. However it was competing that taught her how to get on with people. Paralympic sports nearly always require two people - both the sportsperson and its guide. The Czech Paralympic Team at the Games in Athens this year came 16th overall but Pavla claims to be indifferent.

"To me it doesn't really matter all today. I can definitely understand the personal meaning of these happenings; feelings of joy, happiness and disappointment of individual people, but as a whole it is just another game and it is a part of business world we live in."