Last Updated:

A brief History of the Paralympics


With the Paralympics only a few short months away I thought I would write a brief history of the Games and why they came into being. There is obvisouly
far more to the history, especially of the many various organisations around the world prior to the founding of the International Paralympic Committee
in 1989. However these are all articles in their own right and for now this is a summary on how we got to where we are.

The word “Paralympic” comes from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic”. It means that the Paralympics are the parallel
Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side. This is about sport and equal opportunities for all athletes’ to
excel in the sporting arena. The Olympic charter states “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play....Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

The Chairman of the London organising committee, Sebastian Coe, said about the 2012 Summer Paralympics and 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England,
that "We want to change public attitudes towards disability, celebrate the excellence of Paralympic sport and to enshrine from the very outset that the two Games are an integrated whole."


With attitudes and determination like this it is not surprising to hear that the London 2012 Paralympics saw the largest ever audiences with 2.7
million tickets sold and media coverage as never seen before. Rio 2016 have made the statement that they are looking to beat these records and
are determined to sell more tickets than London and take Paralympics to the next level. What is amazing is that the Paralympics is a very young
story, but born out of a desire to see sport used to rehabilitate.

You can trace the earliest sports club for “impairment” back to 1888, where in Berlin clubs were started for the deaf that included gymnasts, bowlers
and chess players. However it wasn’t until after World War II, that there was a huge growth in sports not only for recreation and rehabilitation
but for competition as well. The main purpose at that time was to assist the large number of war veterans and civilians who had been injured during
the war. The British Government set up a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain and in time, rehabilitation sport
evolved to recreational sport and then to competitive sport headed by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann who had been helped to flee Nazi Germany during the war.

Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games, On 29 July 1948, the day of the Opening
Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games. This is the first key stage in modern in Paralympics history that has since gathered momentum at speed.

In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the Movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded. The first official Paralympic Games that
was not only for servicemen and women took place in Rome, Italy in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. Since then they have taken place
every four years with the first Winter Paralympics being held in Sweden in 1976. Since the Summer Games of Seoul, Korea in 1988 and the Winter
Games in Albertville, France in 1992 the Games have also taken part in the same cities and venues as the Olympics every four years.

Fast forward to Rio 2016 and the Paralympic Games is set to be the third biggest ticketed event in the world, gathering 4,350 athletes from 178 countries
to contest 23 sports. Could Dr Guttmann have in his wildest dreams imagined that could have been possible 68 short years ago? His vision stemmed
from his desire to rehabilitate ex-servicemen which grew into the Paralympics we know now. In 2014 the Invictus Games was set up solely for wounded
servicemen and women, seeing Dr Guttmann’s vision coming full circle. What an incredible great legacy he has left behind giving so much too so
many around the world.