The Paralympics – A Brief History

Bringing inclusion and disability to the forefront of the world’s biggest stage.

The Paralympic Games brings together elite athletes with all types of disabilities to compete on the world stage. It is the world’s third largest sporting event behind the Olympics and the World Cup (soccer). What started out as an athletic and rehabilitation program for people with disabilities in the UK, has transformed into an international disabilities movement. By showcasing athletic ability, the Paralympics brings inclusion, disability rights, and athletic talent to one of the world’s biggest stage.

Since it’s 1944 inception, the Paralympics has undergone changes before becoming the large international organization that it is today. Here is a brief history.


Paralympics – A Brief History


The British Government asks Dr. Ludwig Guttmann to open a spinal injury center at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Dr. Guttmann, a Jewish-German doctor who, with his family, escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and was granted refugee status via the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), believes that sport is an important part of rehabilitation. They introduce it as part of the treatment program.



Rehabilitation slowly becomes part of recreational sport and then integrated into competitive sport at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. On July 29th, Dr. Guttmann organizes the Stoke Mandeville Games, an archery competition for servicemen and women. Sixteen participants are involved and it is the first organized competition for athlete wheelchair users. This date signifies a significant milestone in Paralympic history.

The opening Stoke Mandeville Games occurs on the same day as the Opening Ceremony for the 1948 London Olympics.



The International Stoke Mandeville Games is founded as the Stoke Mandeville Games opens up to other nations. The first country to send ex-servicemen and women to the Games is the Netherlands.



Dr. Guttmann is awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for his achievements. He is honored at the 1956 International Stoke Mandeville Games.



The first official Paralympic Games is held in Rome. Although the event is not called the Paralympic Games at the time (the name was retroactively applied in 1984) it is the first time the games are opened to non-veteran wheelchair users. Twenty-three nations sent 400 athletes to compete for their countries. From here on out, the Paralympics occur every four years.

As a result of the first official Paralympics, the International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled is created under the veil of the World Federation of Ex-Servicemen. They set up a study to address sports for persons with disabilities.



The International Sports Organization for the Disabled (IOSD) is formed out of the International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled. They provide athletic opportunities for people with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs and thus could not compete in the International Stoke Mandeville Games. This includes the visually impaired, people with cerebral palsy, amputees, and paraplegics.



The first Winter Paralympic Games is held in Sweden. Sixteen countries sent 198 athletes to represent their country.

The Toronto 1976 Summer Paralympics sees the first push for the visually impaired to be allowed entry in the games. In 1980, the same push for inclusion is seen for people with cerebral palsy.

The 1976 games marked the first time athletes with disabilities other than wheelchair users participated in the Summer Paralympics. Forty nations send nearly 1,600 athletes to represent their countries.



The Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA), International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), and the ISOD create the International Co-Coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled in the World (ICC) in 1982. The ICC is organized to bring together international organizations that deal with specific disabilities so that Paralympic coordination efforts can be completed in unity. In 1986 the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (CISS) and International Sports Federations for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) join the ICC.



The Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics and Paralympics mark the first time that the Paralympics take place in the same city and facilities as the Summer Olympics. This is an agreement that becomes official between the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the IOC in 2001.

In 1992, the Winter Olympics and Paralympics take place in the same city and venues for the first time.



The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is created as a non-profit organization. They are to act as the international governing body of the Paralympics. The IPC allows more regional and national representation to appease the growing amount of disability organizations joining the ICC.

“Paralympic” derives from Greek “para” meaning beside or alongside, and “Olympic.” The word is meant to draw parallels with the Olympics, showing how they exist together.



The London 2012 Paralympic Games sees 164 nations send 4,250 athletes to compete.



Forty-five nations send 550 athletes to compete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics.


Check out our blog post about Paralympic legend, Natalie Du Toit.

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