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Paralympics TikTok account slammed as insensitive, but not all Paralympians are taking offense

A spokesperson said the account allows the International Paralympic Committee to "positively engage with younger fans about the power of Para sport as a tool for driving social inclusion."
Performers take part in the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 24, 2021.
Performers take part in the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo in 2021.Charly Triballeau / AFP via Getty Images file

The Paralympics Games official TikTok has prompted outrage among some users who said the account's use of popular memes and audio, coupled with footage of athletes, appears to mock the Paralympians.

The account, which has over 3 million followers, posts highlight reels of athletes in different sports during the Paralympics — a major international multisport event for athletes with physical disabilities or intellectual impairments. 

The videos often use popular sounds like “bop it” while showing how blind swimmers avoid hitting the pool wall with a tap on the head or “do a flip” while athletes fall over during wheelchair rugby — an aggressive and full-contact sport previously called murderball.

“the paralympics tiktok account is honestly so mean … like all they do is make fun of the athletes and don’t actually highlight any of their achievements and it’s so gross,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Is anyone super uncomfortable that the entire Paralympics TikTok account is just made to be some sort of huge joke or is that just me?” one TikToker said in their video.

A spokesperson for the International Paralympic Committee said the account is run by a Paralympian.

“We have created a strong following through edgy and unique content that allows us to educate an audience who might be less aware of Paralympic sport and the achievements of our athletes,” the spokesperson said in an email statement. “We appreciate that not everyone will like the content and sometimes we don’t get it right, but we do closely monitor posts and always converse in reactions to them. Importantly, we find that the account allows us to positively engage with younger fans about the power of Para sport as a tool for driving social inclusion.”

Backlash online began after a video of Australian cyclist Darren Hick recirculated on Twitter after being posted by Barstool Sports. The video, which shows Hicks winning gold during the Men’s paracycling C2 time trial at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, uses audio saying “left” multiple times from the song “Follow the Leader” by The Soca Boys. 

We appreciate that not everyone will like the content and sometimes we don’t get it right, but we do closely monitor posts and always converse in reactions to them."

— A spokesperson for the International Paralympic Committee

When reached for comment by NBC News, some Paralympians featured in videos posted by the account said they did not feel offended by its contents.

Hicks said he wasn’t aware of the tweet from Barstool Sports but didn’t see the problem in the original video. 

“I don’t feel like they are mocking me, rather just using a song which uses the word left, and I happen to be pedaling with only my left leg,” he said in a message to NBC News.

Andre Ramos, a bronze medalist in boccia, was also featured on the Paralympics TikTok account. The video shows Ramos, who has cerebral palsy, using his left foot to play the sport with a viral sound of someone singing “Hey, what?” during a game of boccia — a modified version of boccie for people in wheelchairs played at the Paralympics.

Ramos, who is from Portugal, said he doesn’t see an issue with the video.

“In my opinion, it does not demonstrate any type of offense. Many people may think so, but it’s because they are not used to having contact with people with disabilities,” he said. “Making fun with our handicaps is a sign that we accept ourselves as we are and that others do not see the disability as a difference.”

Imani Barbarin, a disability rights advocate who was among those sharing their opinion about the TikTok account, said she recognizes that the account is run by a Paralympian. But she believes there are better ways to promote the Paralympics.

“When you pair some of these audios against physically disabled people, the context changes and it becomes more mocking. You cannot just apply audio from TikTok to videos of Paralympic athletes,” she said. “I’m sorry. It’s just it does not work the same way. And I think that they have this desire to go viral more than to create a sustainable audience of supporters.”

Instead, she said the Paralympics account could feature interviews with the Paralympic athletes, or people explaining the rules for different sports and what the qualification process is like.

“Not everybody who is a disabled person or even a Paralympian is going to necessarily be good at asserting a voice or a perspective when it comes to the things that an audience of disabled people want to see,” she said. “There are a ton of comments that are like, ‘I’m going to hell for laughing’ and if that’s the main core of the responses you’re getting to the media you’re creating, I personally think that’s an issue.”