From a decade of unpaid professional support as a freelance independent online journalist & professional photographer for paralympic sport & raising & promoting disability awareness I have just two t-shirts & a polo shirt all three of which I actually had to pinch from the media rooms . I also have a signed photo from Oscar Pistorius & treasure all four items.
I have such treasured memories of the BT Paralympic World Cup May 2009 at the Sports City complex, Manchester as accredited photographer covering swimming, wheelchair basketball, track cycling & track & field on a voluntary basis for the not for profit global women’s sport news website Women Sport Report . I so enjoyed it & was happy to attend three consecutive games until sadly London won the right to stage it & making it not cost effective to continue to cover.
It’s been a mission of mine for the past two decades to provide voluntary support as a photographer & journalist in the field of disability sport & women’s sport particularly because of the lack of parity in media coverage & funding for those two groups. I also use my special educator background & knowledge of disability to help raise awareness of disability issues using photograph’s of athlete’s I have taken & to try & help change attitudes in positive ways.
That gap has closed somewhat since 2009 helped enormously by mainstream broadcast coverage of the 2012 & 2016 Olympics & Paralympics. It was back then I got to see & photograph the athlete who was by then the first global poster boy for Paralympic sport, Oscar Pistorius. For an independent freelance professional photographer we do not enjoy a level playing field when it comes to access where events are taking place & where young upstart event managers provide media pens for us where a big company will have paid handsomely as official photographers with no restrictions where they stand. You can’t get original shots if you are forced to remain in one place & even though I pushed it as far as I could I ran the risk of being ejected from the venue.
It was in 2010 I found a way to get some original shots of Oscar in full flight during his gold medal win in the 400m where even then the stadium was only half full and where on the far side of the track there were no spectators. I slipped through the crowded north stand and secreted myself lying on the ground near the long jump & got superb shots of him as he majestically passed me.
Back in 2009 that was my first major paralympic event & days w ere long and tiring but I was adrenalin driven. When all the regular establishment media & my freelance colleagues had long left I stayed behind in the empty media room, downloading photos onto my laptop & editing them taking in now and again the remains of the free coffee. Went out to get some fresh air and there was Oscar sitting waiting for the mandatory drugs test , the last of the day when all the other athletes had gone so I asked if I could keep him company and we chatted for maybe half an hour. He was no attention seeking diva, just an ordinary extra ordinary guy, modest, humble & genuine & very friendly. (Incidentally in my whole professional photography career I have as yet seen no other elite athlete able bodied or not so at ease with fans or who spent more time happily chatting, signing autographs and having photos taken with them but in no way an attention seeker or vain just a nice guy not wanting to disappoint people as well as so many small acts of kindness only a few get to see )
Moving forward a few years I was devastated when I heard of Reeva’s death & that Oscar had been charged with her murder and yet , having met the guy , but myself always objective, there was no way the man I met was capable of such an act & I believed his version of events & still do to this day after examining in detail all the evidence, court transcripts, psychologists reports plus a mountain of prejudiced media & social media malicious falsehoods that racked this case up in what was to become the vilest travesty in his country’s legal history. My dad brought me up to be decent, be myself , independent & fact based in my opinions, to stand up for what I believe in & support those who are victims of bad stuff they so did not deserve regardless of the cost. I would also never endorse a product, service or person in whom I did not believe or trust. I trust Oscar & believe in him & whilst it is so tragic that he is responsible for Reeva’s death I know it was an accident & have read nothing in the mountains of research I have done to change that view. He & his family have no voice & thus are unable to speak out & defend themselves from all the abuse they have been subjected to on social media & still being subjected so I made it my business to be as supportive as possible based on evidence & facts. I have done this in the main via Twitter since it offers the biggest reach in terms of audience . To that end given the 140 character limit I came up with the idea of screen capturing text with a photo making “photocard “tweets to help raise awareness of actual evidence & to challenge what I believe has grown into a gross miscarriage of justice where this was not a murder or a domestic violence rage killing but a tragic accident , the kind of accident that could happen to any south African home owner armed for self defence against violent armed home intrusions which so many citizens live in real fear of.