Jean-Baptiste Alaize has struggled his whole life. This survivor of the Tutsi genocide in 1994, amputated of his right tibia after a machete attack when he was only 3 years old, has died. in perfect ambassador of the French handisport. A sprint and long jump specialist, he has built up a good track record under the French banner. World bronze medalist at length in 2017, fifth at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, personal best at 7.14 meters, Alaize could have been a lucky break. Medal for the 2024 Games, organized in Paris. However, at the end of the Tokyo edition, which begins this Tuesday in Japan, the man will leave the track at only 30 years old. He who had taken the habit of raising his arms is about to lower them, for the first time in his career. Tired of struggling to finance his seasons, his equipment, he will put his sneakers in the closet.
Â € œEvery year, my season costs 150,000 euros! is unworthy of the athlete. Unfortunately, with the Covid-19, some of my sponsors have backed off. Finding funding is a daily struggle for Paralympic athletes. And despite the medals, it’s very complicated to make a living from sport. ”Worse, the DrÃ´mois, arrived in France in 1998 where he was adopted by Robert and DaniÃ¨le Alaize, had to launch a crowdfunding pot to be able to line up on the Tokyo track. “I find myself preparing for the Games with three missing prostheses, when I need some spare material so that I don’t find myself in difficulty in the event of a breakage. As for the prosthesis that I currently have, it dates from 2015â ?? ¦Â »Daily uncertainties that have ended up tiring him of running, off the track, behind all the people who can give him financial assistance. “I have to put money into the internships, the physiotherapy or the coach who follows me on the competitions. Meanwhile, athletes from other nations, like the English, are professional and focused only on their performance. ”Jean-Baptiste Alaize feels like he can’t perform as a athletic in its own right. Â € œI didnâ € ™ t make all these sacrifices to earn 1,000 euros per month. At the time of the Rio Games, I even washed cars to prepare for the competition. Today, I don’t want to anymore, I’m tired â ?? ¦Â »
“Finding funding is a daily struggle for Paralympic athletes. And despite the medals, it is very difficult to make a living from sport. [â ?? ¦] At the time of the Rio Games, I even washed cars to prepare for the competition. Today, I don’t want to anymore, I’m tired â ?? ¦
For her part, Sonia Heckel, 32, is about to discover the joys of Olympism. She is a boccia specialist. A test specific to Paralympism, adaptation of the pétanque for disabled athletes. Suffering from myopathy of the girdles, a rare genetic disease, she competes in a wheelchair. This summer, the French team will defend for the first time its chances in a discipline which entered the program in 1984. The professionalization of boccia was born. so not on the agenda, Sonia Heckel must juggle her two lives to pursue her medal dreams. “I work part time, as an accounting secretary in a volleyball club. My training takes me eight hours a week, to which we must add physiotherapy sessions, viewing, strategy. I’m not always in great shape, it takes a lot of organization. “
And when she scrutinizes other competitors, she has something to envy of their training conditions. “In Canada, for example, athletes are paid to live off boccia. It’s frustrating, you find yourself fighting against opponents who practice all day. ”Sonia Heckel sometimes has to put money out of her pocket. If the reference competitions, such as the Paralympics, the World and European Championships are fully supported by the authorities, others remain at their disposal. charged. “The Federal Boccia Commission will put a little money on the table, but we generally have to add 1,000 euros per pair [Sonia Heckel practices her sport with an assistant, editor’s note] . I had to pay for open [international competitions] by myself. “
Charles Noakes is not yet ready to defend French ambitions in Tokyo, but is aiming for the next Games at home. New to the world of parabadminton, the 24-year-old athlete, who performs in the short category, must adapt his daily life to pursue his Olympic goals. The competitions take it regularly to Canada, Brazil, Japan. His season costs between 25,000 and 30,000 euros. “Fortunately, I live with my parents. I train 25 to 30 hours a week, it would be difficult to have a full time job. I volunteer in civic service and I even have to work in the evenings, after training. ”The money he collects is injected back into his career D. Â € œThe sponsors donate 3,000 euros each year; with the subsidies I have to reach 9,000 euros. It all starts with airfare, hotel, tournament entry fees. ”
Why such a gap with other countries that professionalize Paralympic athletes? Anne Marcellini, associate professor at the University of Lausanne, intervening in the field of training adapted physical activities, tries a first explanation: “England has known, at the time of the London Paralympic Games in 2012, a strong public and private commitment. In France, we have not seen the development of militant movements of the same type, which have been able to impact the global policies of Anglo-Saxon nations. “
The same goes for Benjamin Louis, founder of the CÅ ?? ur Handisport site, which helps to publicize Paralympism in France: “In the United Kingdom, they are recognized as special athletes. whole. In France, there is a list of top athletes, but they are not necessarily considered to be great athletes, except at the time of the Paralympics. ”Little relayed, the performances of athletes Disabled people are quickly relegated to the background. An additional difficulty which does not encourage sponsors to invest in careers, for lack of visibility. “In Great Britain, Channel 4 is doing a lot of parasport work. They broadcast almost 700 hours of live in Rio while it was 100 hours on French television. For Tokyo, that hasn’t changed. “
Sonia Heckel quickly noticed this indifference to the world of disabled sports. Particularly in the regional daily press, at its expense. Â € œIâ € ™ ve only had the right to one article in two years, when I qualified for the Paralympics, that I am European champion. There are ten times as many articles on athletes who do not even qualify for the Olympics. Difficult to interest the partners without this exhibition. I sent over a hundred files that went unanswered or were rejected. “
Resorting to private funding is not the only lever activated by athletes. They go through regional or departmental grants that vary according to profiles and locations. They can also benefit from endowments obtained from various competitions, in a few disciplines, but the means made available remain unclear. “This is the jungle”! said Benjamin Louis. Even for them, it’s complicated to find their way around. ”Especially since athletes often embrace this career late, without being aware of it. ??? opacity that reigns. “Many have encountered traumatic injuries in adulthood and arrive late, unlike footballers who have been in the same environment since childhood and know their environment well”, adds academic Anne Marcellini.
The health crisis has further complicated matters. “Athletes have lost partners. We see online jackpots blooming, when it is necessary to finance equipment, an internship or so-called minor competitions, not always supported “, specifies Benjamin Louis. A call for collective mobilization which rarely takes place as the competition is fierce on these platforms. “In the end, the best way out is to win the Paralympic Games, with a gold medal rewarded, like the able-bodied, by 65,000 euros. ”Apart from the Games, the rule is similar. The most successful receive sums which relieve their season. What to see a little further. “Our career also depends on rankings, even more so in boccia. When we won our European team championship title, we got some help. I was able to change my equipment thanks to the Paralympic Committee and the French Federation of Handisport, ”adds Sonia Heckel.
Today, the athlete has become communicative, particularly in the field of disabled sports. You have to know how to sell yourself, approach companies and authorities to hope to recover funds. “It’s hard to be focused on sports and communication at the same time. Fortunately I have studied in this field. Thanks to social networks, I was able to federate a community around me, ”says Charles Noakes. To overcome these funding problems, the Handiamo company is investing in Paralympic athletes. Its director, Richard Warmoes, details: “We try to find financial resources for the athletes we support. In particular, through conferences and disability awareness events that we organize, in which paid champions intervene. ”
Laura Schiel also struggled for years. Even thinking of putting his career on hold, two years ago. Former world champion in parataekwondo, she worked for a long time at McDonald’s in parallel and had to take time off to travel to competitions. Grueling. But the athleteâ € ™ s path suddenly cleared up in May: she has just won a professional integration contract with the army. French. Â € œIâ € ™ m seconded from the army to compete for most of the year, she breathes. It’s life changing, I can finally sleep easy. ”