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Family, friends of Burnaby Paralympian heartbroken matches won't be broadcast

COVID prevented them from attending Games in person; now they can't even watch preliminary matches on TV, online

Burnaby’s Felicia Voss-Shafiq is ready to take to the court in sitting volleyball at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this week – but her friends and family may never see her play.

Shafiq and her teammates found out last week, just one week before the start of the Games tomorrow (Aug. 24), that no sitting volleyball games will be broadcast or streamed online until after Aug. 30.

“We’re all pretty devastated because we have friends and family back home who, if they could, would be here, but they can’t, so they were expecting to watch it either online or on TV,” says Voss-Shafiq, who spoke to the NOW from a staging camp in Shiwa, Japan Friday.

Not only will sitting volleyball not be covered until after Aug. 30, Voss-Shafiq says the team won’t even be able to set up a smart phone and stream matches themselves on Facebook Live or YouTube Live because Olympic Broadcasting Services owns the broadcasting rights for the Games.

Arther Gilbank, Voss-Shafiq’s partner, called the situation “heartbreaking.” 

“I’ve never seen them play live. I was very much hoping to when they went to Japan,” he said. “I had my ticket booked; I had the time off booked, but then I’m not allowed to go … I’m not allowed to be there and I can’t watch.”

Gilbank said he’ll now have to wait till the end of the matches to find out what happen once someone has time to text or post a result.

Lisa Tam, a longtime Burnaby youth coach and coordinator of the school district’s volleyball academy at Cariboo Hill Secondary, helped coach Voss-Shafiq and teammate Danielle Ellis this summer and was counting on being able to watch all their games.

“I had it all on my calendar, and then we find out that they’re not being broadcast,” she told the NOW. “We were so frustrated with that – and we found out so last minute.”

Tam said she’s concerned some athletes’ appearance at the Paralympics won’t be streamed or broadcast at all depending on how they do in preliminary competition.

Langley’s Danielle Ellis, the only other Team Canada player from B.C. besides Voss-Shafiq, is protesting the broadcasting decision online and calling on others to do likewise.

“The Paralympics was started as a PARALLEL to the Olympics, but I see no parallel here,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “It certainly doesn’t feel like a step in the right direction against discrimination and ableism to me.”

She urged supporters to contact Olympic Broadcasting Services and the International Paralympic Committee to protest the move.

“I don’t know if what we do now will allow you to watch our games during this Paralympics, but let’s make sure this never happens again,” Ellis said.

The post drew support from the Canadian Paralympic Team.

“We couldn’t agree more,” stated a comment from the team’s Instagram account. “There is more sport coverage compared to Rio but the journey is not over … Let’s not stop advocating for coverage of all sports until we get 100%.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor