Paralympic Games History

Sports for persons with disabilities has existed since ancient times, its actual development came after the Second World War, intending to rehabilitate the many soldiers and civilians who had been injured during the war.

In 1943, the British government commissioned doctor sir Ludwig Guttmann -a Jewish doctor born in Germany in 1899 and exiled to Britain at the start of the war – to create the Spinal Unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital in the town of Aylesbury, north-west London. There he began to introduce sport as a tool for physical and psychological recovery, and, after a while, rehabilitation gave way to recreation and competition.

Almost at the same time, in the United States, wheelchair basketball was also beginning to develop. In 1949, the First National Basketball Tournament was held, and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association was formed.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann games and the Stoke Mandeville Games

On the 29th of July 1948, to coincide with the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, dr. Guttmann was the one who organized the very first competition with other hospitals at a national level to athletes in a wheelchair, to which he gave the name Stoke Mandeville Games. This championship, which was a milestone in the history of the Paralympic movement, only included archery, with the participation of 16 soldiers and women with spinal injury. Four years later, the Dutch veterans joined, and the International Stoke Mandeville Games emerged.

The birth of the Paralympic Games

The Stoke Mandeville international games were the groundbreaking competition that subsequently led to the Paralympic Games, known at the time as the “handicapped Olympics” (the term Paralympic Games was not coined until the 1980s).

The first edition took place in Rome in 1960 and began six days after the closing of the Olympic Games. For another six days, 400 athletes with spinal injuries from 23 countries met for 58 events with the Medal of eight sports: athletics, basketball, darts, fencing, swimming, snooker, table tennis, and archery. Italy, with 80 metals, led the medal, ahead of Britain (55) and the German Federal Republic (30).

Since then, the Paralympic Games have been held every four years but not always at the Olympic venue. As in the appointment of Rome, in 1964, Guttman succeeded in Tokyo, the city that housed the Olympic Games also held the competition paralympic. However, this was no longer the case for two decades, and Guttman, who died in 1980, never saw him again.

The first international federations

Also, in 1960, under the auspices of the World Veterans Federation, an international working group was established to study the problems of the sport of persons with disabilities. From him arose, four years later, the International Organization of Sports for the Disabled (ISOD, for its acronym in English), which offered an alternative to athletes who could not affiliate to the International Federation of the Stoke Mandeville Games (ISMGF): blind, amputees, athletes with cerebral palsy, etc.

The principle formed part of the ISOD 16 countries, which pushed significantly to get the blind athletes and amputees could participate in the Games of Toronto in 1976 and athletes with cerebral palsy in the Arnhem 1980. It aimed to house all disabilities in the future and function as a coordinating committee. However, other international organizations specialized in each type of disability soon emerged: The International Federation of Blind Sports (IBSA) in 1978 and the International Association of sport and leisure for people with Cerebral Palsy (CPISRA) in 1980.

The four international organizations (ISMGF, ISOD, IBSA, and cp-Isra) felt right away that need to organize in the face of the Games and founded in 1982, the International Coordinating Committee of sports for persons with disabilities (ICC), consisting initially of three members from each entity. In 1986, the International Sports Federations for the Deaf (CISS) and Persons with intellectual disabilities (INAS-FID) joined.

Finally, on 22 September 1989, the International Paralympic Committee, a non-profit organization, was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, to act as the governing body of the Paralympic Movement. But it wasn’t until 1992, after the Barcelona Games, that the ICC finally gave the witness to the IPC.

Divergent paths

For a wide variety of reasons, as has been said, the Olympic and Paralympic Games did not share seats for many years. In 1968 the Paralympics were not in Mexico, but Tel-Aviv (Israel); Germany in 1972 transferred the Paralympic competition to Heidelberg instead of holding it in Munich, and in 1976, the Montreal Games moved to another Canadian city, Toronto. The situation worsened further when the Soviet Union refused to host the 1980 Paralympic Games in Moscow or any other Russian town and had to be held in Arnhem, The Netherlands.

But four years later, in 1984, something similar happened with the other world superpower of the Cold War, and Los Angeles refused to organize the Paralympic event. Games as such could not even be held, as they had to be split between two venues: New York organized competitions for the blind, amputees, and other physical disabilities and people with cerebral palsy, while testing for people with spinal injuries had to return to Stoke Mandeville in Britain.

At the same time, in 1976, the Swedish town of Ornskoldsvik hosted the first Paralympic Winter Games, with 53 athletes from 16 countries taking part in Alpine and Nordic skiing events. After that, he also acquired four-yearly.

Finally, since Seoul 1988 and Albertville 1992, the summer and Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are held in the same cities and facilities, as a result of the agreement between the ICC and the International Olympic Committee, in which the then-president of the highest Olympic organ, Juan Antonio Samaranch, played a key role.