The History of Parasport

Parasport or disability sport is played by people with physical and intellectual disabilities and has existed for more than 100 years.  Parasport is generally divided into three broad disability groups: deaf people, people with physical disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities.  Each group has its own history, organisation and approach and each group has made significant contributions to what is considered modern-day parasport.

In the 19th Century, research into parasport proved sporting activity was very important for the re-education and rehabilitation of people with a disability although it was not until 1924 that the first deaf sport - the 'Paris Silent Games' - took place.  The Games were organised by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (CISS) and eventually evolved into the modern Deaflympics which is today governed by the CISS.

The Paralympic movement truly began as recently as the 1940s, shortly after the end of World War II. With a large number of injured soldiers and civilians disabled during combat, parasport offered a fantastic method of treatment and rehabilitation.

The man behind the Paralympic movement was a German neurologist named Ludwig Guttmann, a leading pre-World War II neurologist.  A huge believer in sport as a method of rehabilitation for the disabled, Guttmann establish the Stoke Mandeville Games on July 28th 1948 to coincide with the starting date of the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London.  In so doing Guttmann brought about the first parasport competition for wheelchair athletes.

In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement and founded the International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee (ISMGF). The Stoke Mandeville Games were the precursor to the Paralympic Games which first officially took place in Rome in 1960.

At the Rome 1960 Paralympics, the competitive programme included eight parasport events considered beneficial and suitable for athletes with spinal cord injuries.  These were Snooker, Fencing (foil or sabre), Javelin and Precision Javelin, Shot Put, Indian Club Throwing (throwing a baton), Men's Basketball and Swimming (Freestyle, Breaststroke and Backstroke).  Other non-competitive parasport events at the Games were: Table Tennis (singles and doubles), Archery, Dart Archery and the Pentathlon (Archery, Swimming, Javelin, Shot Put and Club Throwing).

The sixties also saw the introduction of parasport for people with intellectual disabilities through the Special Olympics movement.  This grew out of a series of summer camps organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, beginning in 1962.  In 1968 the first international Special Olympics were held, in Chicago.  Today, Special Olympics provide training and competition in a variety of sports for persons with intellectual disabilities.

By 1986, the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) was formed to support elite competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities.  This was established in contrast to the more participative 'sport for all' approach of Special Olympics.

Athletes with intellectual disabilities were included in the Paralympic Games. However in 2000 INAS-FID athletes were banned from Paralympic competition after a cheating scandal at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, where a number of athletes participating in intellectual disability events were revealed to not actually be disabled.  After years of campaigning from various groups involved in parasport, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided to reinstated intellectual disability athletes into the Paralympic Games on 21st November 2009.

The IPC are the organisation responsible for running the Paralympic movement and parasport around the World. Founded on 22 September 1989 in Düsseldorf, Germany under the Presidency of Canadian Robert D. Steadward, the IPC has established itself as a unique umbrella organisation.  Where other international parasport organisations for athletes with a disability are either limited to one disability group or to one specific parasport, the IPC represents several parasports and disabilities.

There are now 23 parasports forming part of the Paralympic movement heading into the London 2012 Paralympic Games.  However there are hundreds of other parasports (competitive or otherwise) that disabled people participate in as parasport increases in popularity around the world.
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