Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dennis J. Frost's "More Than Medals"

Dennis J. Frost is Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences in the Department of History at Kalamazoo College. He is author of Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity, and Body Culture in Modern Japan.

Frost applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan, and reported the following:
The first full paragraph on page 99 of More Than Medals reads:
On the one hand, the APC has clearly distanced itself from the problematic paternalistic and medicalized approach to disability sports that defined FESPIC, especially in its early years, and the APC is committed to empowering athletes with disabilities, particularly by providing them with the biggest stage possible on which to demonstrate their exceptional talents. On the other hand, the broader commitment to regional outreach and social issues outside of sport that lay at the very heart of FESPIC’s mission now appear to have become secondary at best. Where the Games had been a means to an end for FESPIC, for the APC they have become an end—or perhaps more accurately a “core asset” essential to the continued viability of the APC—in and of themselves.
Someone browsing this page would likely find themselves asking, “What is the APC or FESPIC? And why are they being compared?” Deeper interests can certainly originate with those sorts of questions, but in this instance, the page 99 test might disappoint readers. In part, that’s because the paragraphs here wrap up a section addressing international institutional transitions that re-shaped disability sports in Japan and the Asian region. Page 99 highlights the impacts of an organizational merger in 2006 that created the current Asian Paralympic Committee (APC) and dissolved the three-decades-old Far East and South Pacific (FESPIC) Games, which serve as the focus of this chapter. Many people are unfamiliar with even the basics of these disability sports organizations, so the significance of the comparisons on page 99 would be too easy to miss. I also hate to imagine that someone reading this single page would think that the book is only about those types of organizational changes. While that’s definitely an important part of the story, there’s much more to the history of disability sports in Japan that I explore in the book.

Even with those limitations, I did note that page 99 hinted at several of the book’s broader themes, so all is not lost for the test! For one, readers’ potential lack of familiarity with FESPIC’s history speaks to larger questions in the chapter, namely, how does a thirty-year-old organization that hosted multiple international disability sports events largely disappear from popular and even institutional memory? And what might that tell us about the oft-discussed legacies of other sports mega-events?

Comparisons between FESPIC and the APC on page 99 also highlight both the evolution of—and tensions within—efforts to promote sports for people with disabilities in Japan. Like other early disability sports events, the FESPIC Games initially focused on sports as a form of medicalized rehabilitation, but they became increasingly geared toward elite competition. From its origins the APC emphasized the elite nature of disability sports, but as this chapter and others in the book point out, rehabilitation-related understandings of disability sports have persisted, with patterns established decades ago continuing to shape how we view athletes with disabilities today. The reference to FESPIC’s mission on page 99 also serves as a reminder that the significance of disability sports in Japan—even with their more recent “elite” approach—has repeatedly extended well beyond the sports field. The Paralympics and disability sports in Japan have always been about more than medals.
Learn more about More Than Medals at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Seeing Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue