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Radio review: The Fake Paralympians, Bad Cops, and Positive Thinking

27 August 2021


Dan Pepper (a genuine Paralympian) presents The Fake Paralympians (World Service, Tuesdays)

Dan Pepper (a genuine Paralympian) presents The Fake Paralympians (World Service, Tuesdays)

MANKIND’s wickedness has, from the Pentateuch onwards, provided narrators with copious materials for long-form storytelling; and the latest genre through which this fascination may be expressed is the True Crime “box-set” documentary. The World Service is building up a substantial catalogue of these, with two more recently launched, both of them well worth a listen if you can’t resist some fresh expression of human folly.

The more extraordinary tale is told in The Fake Paralympians (World Service, Tuesdays). Presented by an ex-Paralympian swimmer, Dan Pepper, the story is of a Spanish basketball team who were banned after it was revealed that ten of the team’s 12 members were not disabled. The climax of the story comes at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, as the team competed for gold in the intellectual/learning-disability category.

We heard in the first episode from Ray Torres, one of the two Spanish competitors who have genuine learning disabilities; of his enthusiasm for a sport which gave him status, and his elation at having an opportunity to compete in the Paralympics. And then of his suspicions as he notices how strange it is that his fellow teammates are not “strange” like him, and keep themselves apart. Since the disability is not physical, it requires someone with the perceptiveness of Torres to notice what others perhaps do not dare to notice.

After this first episode, we are left with many questions; and there are five more episodes in which to answer them. And as intriguing as the scandal are the wider issues of what constitutes disability in sport, and the value of and the values inherent in competitive sport.

In contrast, Bad Cops operates much more within generic expectations. Anyone who has heard one of the pioneering True Crime podcasts from the United States will recognise the stylistic tropes employed here, down to the undeviating use of the present historic, and the vocal inflections of the presenter, Jessica Lussenhop. We are told at the beginning that this is a story which reads like the script of a movie; and that is what is intended by the presentation.

The backdrop is Baltimore: the city of The Wire, and, but for the fact that it is true, this story might have come from the writer, David Simon’s, back pocket. When a drugs baron is arrested, two tracking devices are found on his car. Only one of them belongs to the police; so, where does the other come from? There are no prizes for guessing, but, in this genre, the important thing is the way you tell it.

I doubt whether Baltimore’s bad cops featured here will have had the benefit of advice from an ethical-careers service, such as those featured in Positive Thinking (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week). According to the surveys produced by these specialist companies, 74 per cent of respondents said that they wanted purpose in their careers. Crucially, however, what kind of purpose is not specified.

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