September 3, 2012
With the Paralympic Games in full swing, it’s hard to see how this event has ever been viewed as anything other as an event competing on a par with its figurative big brother. And as the second largest sporting event worldwide, it certainly has a lot of clout of its own.
Originally devised as a sports event in 1948 for British World War II veterans by the German-born Dr Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, it was the start of movement that would bring ambition to and breed understanding for people with disabilities worldwide.
Guttmann, who had escaped Nazi Germany, and was treating patients with spinal cord injuries in the UK aimed to create a competition for wheelchair patients, that was the precursor to the Paralympic Games.
But it wasn’t until 1976 that multiple categories of disabilities were included in the Games, and the Seoul Paralympics in 1988 marked a turning point for the movement when the International Paralympic Committee was founded and the term Paralympic Games came into official use. But it’s taken even longer for the Games to gain parity with the Olympics. It wasn’t until 2001 that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the IPC (International Paralympics Committee) signed an agreement that the host cities would be contracted to manage both Games, and created a charter forbidding discrimination.
Yet funding opportunities for disabled athletes has provoked criticism in the past, but continues to improve year on year, with funding from the USOC nearly tripling between 2003 and 2008.
It is perhaps in this homecoming Games, where interest in the Paralympics has achieved sell-out status and with more media coverage than ever before, that genuine parity between the games will take on national acceptance.
The success of this year’s Games is likely to propel this generation of athletes to the sort of superstar status that is increasingly being enjoyed by Paralympians, who are breaking new boundaries in what can be achieved in sport by people with disabilities.
It is hoped that the national fervour which has surrounded both the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games and the greater coverage will breed greater understanding in the non-disabled community and ever greater opportunities for outstanding achievements by disabled athletes, and that this year, the Paralympics will stand on the same podium as the Olympics proper.