The Paralympic Games are the zenith of competition for elite athletes with physical disabilities. The fundamental philosophy guiding the Paralympic movement is that these world–class athletes should have opportunities and experiences equivalent to the non–disabled athletes. In order to compete in the Paralympics, each athlete must meet strict qualifying standards and be selected to his or her national team.
They follow the Olympic Games every two years, with both summer and winter games. The Paralympics are not to be confused with the Special Olympics, for athletes with mental retardation. This year’s Paralympics in Atlanta features 3,500 disabled athletes from 120 nations. The Paralympic Games began in Rome in 1960 and have been held every Olympic year since, usually in the city or country hosting the Olympic Games.
Special Olympics involves over 5,00,000 athletes from 8 to 80 with mental retardation. This year, for the first time, some individuals with mental retardation competed in the Paralympic Games. Many of these athletes received their training through Special Olympics. Olympic Games are open to any athletes who qualify.
While competition and winning are just as important to Special Olympics athletes as those in Paralympics and the Olympic Games, Special Olympics is unique in that it encourages participation and the year–round, lifetime benefits of sports training. We call this “Training for Life”. Research shows that Special Olympics participation leads to higher social competence and better self–esteem among participating athletes.
History of the Paralympics
In 1944 the British Government set up a spinal injuries centre for ex–servicemen headed by Sir Ludwig Guttman at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. As part of their therapy, patients were introduced to a number of sports and in July, 1948, a sports competition involving patients from various rehabilitation centres took place. These were the first Stoke Mandeville Games. Three years later, competitors from Holland appeared at the Games and the international movement, now known as the Paralympics, was born. In 1976, Sir Ludwig succeeded in introducing the concept of the Winter Paralympics in which 30 nations now compete.
Today, the Paralympics are elite sport events for athletes from six different disability groups. They emphasise, however, the participants’ athletic achievements rather than their disability. The movement has grown dramatically since its first days. The number of athletes participating in Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes in Rome in 1960 to 3,195 in Atlanta in 1996. More than 4,000 athletes will participate in the Sydney Paralympic games next year.
The Paralympic Games have always been held in the same year as the Olympic Games. Since the Seoul Summer Games (1988) and the Albertville Winter Games (1992) they have also taken place at the same venues as the Olympics.
The next Paralympic Games will take place in Sydney (2000), followed by the Winter Games in Salt Lake City (2002), USA. In 2004, the Summer Games will be held in Athens, Greece. On June 19, 1999, Turin won the bid for organizing the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
When are the Paralympics?
The Summer Paralympic Games were held in Atlanta (USA) in 1996 and thereafter Summer Paralympics were held in Sydney (Australia) in October 2000. The previous Winter Paralympic Games took place in Nagano (Japan) in 1998 and the 2002 Winter Paralympic Games will be held in Salt Lake City (United States).
Significance of sports for disabled
Whether at beginner, social, competitive or Paralympic level, sport for people with a disability provides many benefits. It not only offers entertainment, recreation, social contact, and physical and mental achievement common to all sports people, but also great improvements in physical and intellectual strength, and muscular co–ordination, as well as enhanced self–confidence and self–esteem. Participation at the international competitive level requires the same attributes required by all athletes: dedication, sacrifice, skill, determination and a will to win, with an even greater return in benefits to the athletes themselves. Their equal opportunity or fair chance to excel means a complete transformation of life–style and attitude.