A Showcase of Ability, Athlete First

A History of the Paralympic Movement, reviewed by Chuck Campbell A Showcase of Ability, Athlete First traces the development of […]

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A History of the Paralympic Movement, reviewed by Chuck Campbell

A Showcase of Ability, Athlete First traces the development of the Paralympic Movement from the establishment of the first organized sports for people with disabilities through the 2004 Paralympics.

Bailey notes that early development of organized sports for people with disabilities was impeded by the misperception that these sports were about rehabilitation rather than world championship competition between elite athletes. The Paralympic Movement is helping to dispel that myth.

Though many people think the “para” in Paralympics refers to paraplegia, Bailey explains that it actually derives from Greek and Latin words meaning “next to” or “alongside” and “similar” or “the same” respectively. Use of the word “Olympic” began with German neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttmann in 1949. At first that use was opposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which saw the word as its copyright. There have been a variety of names over the years, but Paralympics has been the official name since 1988.

Sporting competitions for the disabled date back for almost a century, according to the book. The first international sports federation for people with disabilities was the International Committee of Silent Sports (CISS), established during the first World Games for the Deaf, held in Paris in 1924. Now known as the International Committee for Deaf Sports, it still uses the CISS acronym. Though a founding member of International Paralympic Committee (IPC), CISS withdrew from that group in 1995. It now operates the Summer and Winter Silent Games, also known as the Deaflympics, writes Bailey.

Bailey credits Guttmann for his leadership in establishing organized sports for people with disabilities. The Stoke Mandeville games opened the same day as the 1948 London Olympics. Guttmann, who established the Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Unit in England in 1944, had utilized sports in the rehabilitation process. He saw the benefits of competition between people with similar injuries. He was also involved in the creation of the International Sports Organization for the Disabled, which provided competitive opportunities for people with disabilities other than spinal injuries.

For some time there were many separate organizations for people with different disabilities. This created problems as the various groups competed for assistance from the IOC. Bailey writes that the IOC was “instrumental in prompting confederacy among disability sports organizations.” Encouragement by the IOC led to the establishment of the International Coordinating Committee of World Sports Organizations for the Disabled (ICC) in 1982, with the goal of “speaking with one voice.” The ICC managed consolidation of individual organizations into what became the Paralympic Games.

Bailey presents an overview of the many groups that have served disabled athletes over the years. In 2004 the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation merged with the International Sports Organization for the Disabled. This latter group was founded in 1964 to offer sporting opportunities for amputees and other people with disabilities who were then ineligible for the Stoke Mandeville Games. The 2004 merger formed the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation.

Cerebral Palsy-International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA), created in 1978, also serves people who’ve had strokes and traumatic brain injuries. Bailey writes CP-ISRA is “very actively involved” with IPC.

International Association for Sport for Persons with Mental Handicap, International Special Olympics, Inc., and International Blind Sports Association, though not affiliated with IPC, also provide sports opportunities for people with disabilities.

Bailey cites the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as, “the principal force for the Paralympic Movement, identifying as its vision: ‘To enable paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.’” In 2003, IPC introduced the new Paralympic motto: “Spirit in motion.”

Among the challenges IPC faces is classification of athletes to ensure meaningful competition. The idea is that athletes with similar disabilities should compete against each other. Classification has been an issue since Ludwig Guttmann organized sports for former spinal patients because it excludes people who don’t fit a category.

Discussing the nature of disability, Bailey writes, “individuals’ impairment becomes a disability when the organization of society prevents them from participating fully.” Continuing, “Effectively, society causes the disablement of those individuals who are impaired in some way. Inflexibility in organizational policies can be a barrier to enabling normal functioning of persons with a disability in society, as can cultural representations that patronize or dehumanize.” Bailey believes it is these barriers that should be disabled, and sports help to accomplish that. “The high profile Paralympic Movement has served to force communities to address questions of accessibility and inclusion for persons with a disability.” He also cites the role of sports in creating community, which I’ve seen myself watching the Minnesota North Stars quad rugby team. The player’s camaraderie afterward was obvious, and asking for interviews gave me an opportunity to meet some great guys. Google United States Quad Rugby Association, then follow the links to our home team’s site.

Athlete First, copyright 2008, is published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. of Chichester, West Sussex, England.

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