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A brief history of the Paralympics 

Modified 19 Feb 2021

The Paralympics is a series of periodic multi-sport events involving athletes with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities. The legendary Sir Ludwig Guttmann is credited as the founder of the Paralympic Games.

The Beginning

Source: USParalympics1

In 1994, a Jewish Doctor who was a Refugee from Nazi Germany started a new spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. At that time, patients were not expected to live for 2 years so the idea was to make their remaining days as comfortable as possible.

However, Ludwig Guttmann had other ideas about their life expectancy and insisted on managing the treatment in his way. His approach was criticized by many, but he solely revolutionized the care of the paralyzed. He got patients off sedation and he insisted that the patients get up and move around by taking part in craft and sports activities.

One of his most inspired ideas was to get wheelchair patients to play competitive sports as a way to improve their fitness, boosting self-esteem and restoring dignity.

On the same day as the opening of the 1948 London Olympic Games, Dr. Guttman organized a team of World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries to compete in archery, which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. 14 men and 2 women who took part that day became the first Paralympians.


Later, Guttman organized a similar event every year and it got bigger and better each successive year. In 1952, the first International event was held when a small team from the Netherlands came to compete. From this day, Dr. Guttman referred to it as "The Olympics of the Disabled'.

Paralympic Games

The Stoke Mandeville Games became the Paralympic Games when it first took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. It was held just after the Olympics in Rome.

Since then, the Paralympics have been held once every four years. Historically, in 1976, the first Winter Games in Paralympics were held in Sweden, and just like the Summer Games, they have also been held once every four years since then.

Notably, since the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 1992 Winter Games in France, the Paralympic Games have also taken part in the same countries and venues as the Olympics due to an agreement between the IPC and IOC.

Growth of the Paralympics


The Paralympic movement continued to grow, modernize and include more disability groups. By the 1976 Toronto Paralympics, customized racing wheelchairs were introduced and events for amputees and visually impaired athletes were held for the first time. The very next edition featured events for athletes with cerebral palsy.

International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

In 1964, the International Sport Organization for the Disabled (ISOD) was formed. This offered opportunities for athletes who could not be affiliated with the International Stoke Mandeville Games: vision impaired, amputees, persons with cerebral palsy, and paraplegics.

Initially, 16 countries joined the ISOD and it tried very hard to include blind and amputee athletes into the Toronto 1976 Paralympics and athletes with cerebral palsy in 1980 in Arnhem. However, other disability orientated international organizations such as the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) and International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) were founded in 1978 and 1980.

These four organizations felt the need of coordinating the games, so they created the International Co-coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled in the World (ICC) in 1982. Later, the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (CISS) and International Sports Federations for Persons with an Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) joined in 1986, but the deaf still maintained their organization.

The wait was over on 22 September 1989, when the International Paralympic Committee was finally founded as an international non-profit organization in Dusseldorf, Germany, to act as the global governing body of the Paralympics.

Also read: Summer Olympics vs Paralympics: 6 major differences

Published 19 Feb 2021, 06:11 IST
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