November 28, 2021

“Having disabled athletes in a company trivializes the presence of disabled employees”

On the occasion of the European Week for the Employment of People with Disabilities from November 15 to 21, Michaël Jeremiasz, member of the Paris 2024 Athletes’ Commission and four-time medalist at the Paralympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012), analyzes for franceinfo: sport the evolution of the situation for high level athletes with disabilities. According to him, things are changing, with companies more aware of the potential of these champions and what they can bring within their structure. But the work of recognition remains long.

Franceinfo: sport: Is it easier today to reconcile your work and your activity as a high level athlete when you have a disability compared to your years of activity (2001-2016)?

Michaël Jeremiah: Twenty years ago, the question of the double project was confidential. Few athletes wondered what they were going to do after their sports career, when they retrained. This is what led to many dramatic situations, with athletes in a very precarious situation. For 10 years, this question has been taken more into account. Most Olympic and Paralympic athletes do not make a living from their sport, so it has become a necessity. It’s always difficult to reconcile the two, especially because if we want to be the best, we should be able to practice only our sport. Today you have amateur sports, yet present at the Olympics and Paralympics, where we have to get up earlier in the morning, go to train between noon and two, and in the evening after a day’s work. . It is obviously complicated and some explode in mid-flight. Now there is more money invested in sport, and this makes it easier for athletes to approach their sports career.

There is a support issue which is also central …

Absolutely, that is what is at stake for athletes who are finishing their careers. Having a degree is not essential. If I take my personal case, I studied before becoming a tennis player, then a little bit later. But the greatest skills that we can acquire when we are athletic are the richness of our career during fifteen years at the high level. The challenge is to have refined skills assessments for high-level athletes. We didn’t just run fast, jump high or hit a yellow ball hard, it’s much more complex and multiple.

We have the impression that companies are more aware of all this, that many are more proactive in securing the services of high-level athletes, including those with disabilities …

For a long time companies have been aware of this potential, and now it has become completely democratized. With Paris 2024, there is an acceleration in the desire to work with athletes on the image, on the use of one’s skills, the ability to bounce back, to manage stress, to work as a team, to face the adversity, leadership, performance … When athletes are able to make intelligible what they have experienced for 15 or 20 years, it is a real asset for a company.

Does what is done in sport for disabled athletes have repercussions for people with disabilities, in particular through better visibility?

It is very difficult to measure. What is certain is that more and more Paralympic athletes are asked to give lectures, are sponsored … It is not enough to finance the season of a high level athlete, but it is a help which did not exist some time ago. There is also personalized assistance with the National Sports Agency (ANS). We have more tools than ever to be efficient. And in companies, having disabled athletes who come to work, who do the job well, this will give recruiters ideas so that there are others, who are not necessarily high-level athletes. It is a way of trivializing the presence of disabled employees in the company.

Michaël Jeremiasz activist for the candidacy of Paris for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024, December 14, 2015. (PHILIPPE MILLEREAU / KMSP / DPPI)

You created with your wife and your brother the association Comme les Autres 10 years ago, which aims to help people with disabilities to rebuild themselves. Why is sport one of the main drivers of this reconstruction?

When we created the association, we said to ourselves that we had identified the tools that allow people to bounce back after an accident of life. The idea was to make them available to people who have experienced these accidents. And sport is a tremendous tool, especially when it comes to autonomy. This is one of the first things we do in a rehabilitation center, it intervenes immediately to be able to move. And in terms of self-confidence, self-image, independence, social bonding, sport brings it all. Then, once we have started this support work, the idea is to re-access full citizenship and one of the tools is work. It gives us autonomy in our personal choices and diffuses a great sense of usefulness. For 10 years, this has been one of our main axes, we have supported more than 800 people. We still want to accelerate the transition to a return to employment or access to employment. This is decisive for maintaining a psychological balance.

You are also a member of the Athletes’ Commission for Paris 2024. What is your role and how does it work?

The committee is mixed, between men and women but also between able-bodied and disabled athletes. We meet and we are challenged by the Paris 2024 teams on all subjects that concern the athlete path. We can talk about accessibility, food, bedding, sporting events, media, security … Everything that concerns athletes. The commission’s just vocation is to ensure that the Games are organized with rigor and commitment. Afterwards, we know very well that the paying agency is the IOC and that it is first the Olympic Games and then the Paralympic Games. Apart from perhaps London in 2012, no country has succeeded in putting them on an equal footing.

How do you explain that ?

It’s always the same: visibility. You have to talk about it, show parasport all year round, talk about disability with the right approach, not be in the miserable or in the concept of superheroes. It is necessary to arrive at a trivialization of the difference by speaking about it normally, like the others. It is a big issue, not only in the media but also at the level of the legislator and in everyday life.