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The Paralympic Games are a multi-sport event for athletes with physical and visual disabilities. This includes athletes with mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy. The Paralympic Games are held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and are governed by the International Paralympic Committeemarker (IPC). The Paralympic Games are sometimes confused with the Special Olympics World Games, which are only for people with intellectual disabilities.

Although the name was originally coined as a portmanteau combining 'paraplegic' (due to its origins as games for people with spinal injuries) and 'Olympic', the inclusion of other disability groups meant that this was no longer considered appropriate. The present formal explanation for the name is therefore that it derives from the Greek preposition παρά, pará ("beside" or "alongside") and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games.


The Paralympic Games are sport events for elite athletes with a physical disability or vision impairment. They are designed to emphasize the participants' athletic achievements, not their disability.

On the day of the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in Londonmarker, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospitalmarker organised a sports competition for British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries. The games were held again at the same location in 1952, and Dutchmarker veterans took part alongside the British, making it the first international competition of its kind. These Stoke Mandeville Games have been described as the precursors of the Paralympic Games. The Paralympics were subsequently officialised as a quadrennial event tied to the Olympic Games, and the first official Paralympic Games, no longer open solely to war veterans, were held in Rome in 1960.At the Toronto 1976 Games other groups of athletes with different disabilities were also included.

The movement has grown dramatically since its early days – for example the number of athletes participating in the Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes in Romemarker in 1960 to over 4,200 athletes from 148 countries in Beijing in 2008.

The Paralympic Games take place in the same year as the Olympic Games. However, it is only since 1988 that the Games have been held in the same city, using the same venues.In 2001 the IOC and IPC signed an agreement which guaranteed that Host Cities would be contracted to manage both Olympic Games and Paralympic Games with effect from 2012.Today, the International Paralympic Committeemarker (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement; it organizes the Summer and Paralympic Winter Games; and also serves as the International Federation for 12 sports, for which it supervises and coordinates the World Championships and other competitions.

“Spirit in Motion” is the motto for the Paralympic movement, since the Paralympic Games in 1960 held in Rome, Italy it has grown significantly. Over the years the Paralympics have come a long ways. From the 1960 Games to the 2008 Games in Beijing there was over a 3,800-athlete increase. As the years pass the Paralympics are more and more recognized on the world stage. They are now the world’s largest sporting event after the Olympics and are the fastest growing movement in international sports. The Paralympics are no longer held solely for war veterans but for elite athletes all over the world with various disabilities. Sir Philip Craven President of the International Paralympic Committee states, “The paralympic movement inspires people both with and without a disability to interact in the same global family, enjoy equal social rights and build a harmonious world together.” The Paralympic Games continue to evolve with time. They give a chance for disabled athletes all over the world to come together and compete for the same thing, to strive for the best. The Paralympics offer hope, but more importantly a chance to take action. They hold no limits or boundaries only never ending possibilities for athletes all over the world.

Cheating controversies

The Paralympic Games have seen damaging scandals regarding cheating in the events. After the 2000 Sydney Games, in which non-disabled athletes were entered in the Spanish Basketball ID team, athletes with intellectual difficulties were suspended indefinitely by the IPC. The IPC has stated that it will re-evaluate their participation following the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic Games Sports

The sports that are represented at the Paralympic Games are:Summer SportsArcheryAthleticsBocciaCyclingEquestrianFootball 5-a-sideFootball 7-a-sideGoalballJudoPowerliftingRowingRugbySailingShootingSwimmingTable TennisVolleyball (sitting)Wheelchair BasketballWheelchair TennisWheelchair Fencing

Winter Sports

Alpine SkiingBiathlonCross-country skiingSledge hockeyWheelchair curling

Summer Games

  Summer Paralympic Games
Year Games Host City Country
1960 Summer Paralympics I Romemarker Italymarker
1964 Summer Paralympics II Tokyomarker Japanmarker
1968 Summer Paralympics III Tel Avivmarker Israelmarker
1972 Summer Paralympics IV Heidelbergmarker West Germanymarker
1976 Summer Paralympics V Torontomarker Canadamarker
1980 Summer Paralympics VI Arnhemmarker Netherlandsmarker
1984 Summer Paralympics VII Stoke Mandevillemarker
New Yorkmarker
United Kingdommarker
United Statesmarker
1988 Summer Paralympics VIII Seoulmarker South Koreamarker
1992 Summer Paralympics IX Barcelonamarker Spainmarker
1996 Summer Paralympics X Atlantamarker United Statesmarker
2000 Summer Paralympics XI Sydneymarker Australia
2004 Summer Paralympics XII Athensmarker Greecemarker
2008 Summer Paralympics XIII Beijing Chinamarker
2012 Summer Paralympics XIV Londonmarker United Kingdommarker
2016 Summer Paralympics XV Rio de Janeiromarker Brazilmarker

Summer sports

The following sports are currently on the Summer Paralympic Games programme:

These sports were part of the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

The following sports are not included in the Summer Paralympic Games program, but are governed by the IPC:

Winter Games

  Winter Paralympic Games
Year Games Host City Country
1976 Winter Paralympics I Örnsköldsvikmarker Swedenmarker
1980 Winter Paralympics II Geilomarker Norwaymarker
1984 Winter Paralympics III Innsbruckmarker Austriamarker
1988 Winter Paralympics IV Innsbruckmarker Austriamarker
1992 Winter Paralympics V Albertvillemarker Francemarker
1994 Winter Paralympics VI Lillehammermarker Norwaymarker
1998 Winter Paralympics VII Nagano Japanmarker
2002 Winter Paralympics VIII Salt Lake Citymarker United Statesmarker
2006 Winter Paralympics IX Turinmarker Italymarker
2010 Winter Paralympics X Vancouvermarker Canadamarker
2014 Winter Paralympics XI Sochimarker Russiamarker

Winter sports

The following sports are on the current Winter Paralympic Games program:


Ragnhild Myklebust of Norwaymarker holds the record for the most ever medals won at the Winter Paralympic Games. Competing in a variety of events in 1988, 1992, 1994 and 2002, she won a total of 22 medals, of which 17 were gold.

Disability categories

These categories apply to both summer and winter Paralympics.


Within the six disability categories the athletes still need to be divided according to their differing level of impairment.

The classification systems differ from sport to sport, in accordance with the different skills required to perform the sport.

Archery:Archery is open to athletes with a physical disability. Classification is broken up into three classes: W1, spinal cord and cerebral palsy athletes with impairment in all four limbs. W2, wheelchair users with full arm function. Standing, Amputee, Les Autres and Cerebral Palsy standing athletes. Some athletes in the standing group will sit on a high stool for support but will still have their feet touching the ground.

Athletics:Athletics is open to all disability groups and uses a functional classification system. A brief classification guide is as follows: prefixing F for field athletes or T for track athletes. F or T 11-13 are visually impaired, F or T 20 are learning difficulty, F or T 31-38 are cerebral palsy, F or T 41- 46 amputee and les autres, T 51- 54 wheelchair track athletes and F51- 58 wheelchair field athletes.

Basketball:Basketball is open to wheelchair athletes and athletes with a learning disability. Wheelchair athletes are classified according to their physical ability and are given a points rating between 1 - 4.5. One pointers being the most severely disabled and 4.5 the least disabled. A team on court comprises five players and may not exceed a total of 14 points at any given time.

Boccia:Boccia is open to athletes with cerebral palsy who compete from a wheelchair. Classification is split into four groups; BC1: Athletes are either throwers or foot players (with cerebral palsy). Athletes may compete with an assistantBC2: For throwing players (with cerebral palsy). Players may not have an assistantBC3: Athletes (with severe disability) who use an assistive device and may be assisted by a person, but this assistant must keep their back to the court.BC4: For throwing players. Players may not have an assistant (Non cerebral palsy)

Cycling:Cycling is open to amputee, les autre, cerebral palsy and visually impaired athletes who compete in individual road race and track events. Classification is split into divisions 2, 3 and 4 for athletes with cerebral palsy, athletes in division two being the most severely handicapped progressing to division 4 which includes physically more able athletes. Visually impaired athletes compete together with no separate classification system. They ride in tandem with a sighted guide. Amputee, Spinal Cord Injury and Les Autre competitors compete within the classification groupings LC1 - essentially for riders with upper limb disabilities, LC2 - essentially for riders with disabilities in one leg but who are able to pedal normally, LC3 - essentially for riders with a handicap in one lower limb who will usually pedal with one leg only, and LC4 for riders with disabilities affecting both legs.

Equestrian:Equestrian is open to all disability groups, with riders divided into four grades. Grade 1 incorporates severely disabled riders with Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres and Spinal Cord Injury. Grade 2 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Spinal Cord injury and Amputee riders with reasonable balance and abdominal control. Grade 3 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Amputee, Spinal Cord Injury and totally blind athletes with good balance, leg movement and co-ordination. Grade 4 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Amputee, Spinal Cord injury and Visually Impaired. This last group comprises ambulant athletes with either impaired vision or impaired arm/leg function.

Fencing:Fencing is open to wheelchair athletes. There are only three classes; class A incorporates those athletes with good balance and recovery and full trunk movement; class B those with poor balance and recovery but full use of one or both upper limbs; class C athletes with severe physical impairment in all four limbs.

Football:Football is open to athletes with cerebral palsy and includes classes 5, 6, 7 and 8. All classes comprise ambulant athletes; class 5 being the least physically able, progressing through to class 8 who are minimally affected. Teams must include at least one athlete from either class 5 or 6.

Goalball:Goalball is open to visually impaired athletes who must wear "black out" masks to ensure all participants can compete equally, therefore eliminating the need for classification.

Judo:Judo is open to visually impaired athletes. There is no classification as such, participants being divided into weight categories in the same way as able-bodied judo athletes.

Powerlifting:Powerlifting is open to athletes with a physical disability. Classification is by weight category as in able bodied powerlifting competition.

Sailing:Sailing is open to amputee, cerebral palsy, visually impaired, wheelchair and les autre athletes. Classification for the Sonar is based on a functional points system with low points for severely disabled athletes rising by scale to high points for less disabled athletes. Each crew of three is allowed a maximum of 12 points between them. The singled handed 2.4m can be crewed regardless of points but the sailor must have at least a minimum level of disability which prevents them from competing on equal terms with able bodied sailors.

Shooting:Shooting is open to athletes with a physical disability. There are only two classes of competition, wheelchair and standing.

Swimming:Classification is divided into three groups: S1 to S10 are those with physical impairment. S1 will have the most severe impairment and an S10 a lesser impairment, for example a hand amputation. S11 to S13 are those with a visual impairment. S11 will have little or no vision, S12 can recognise the shape of a hand and have some ability to see, S13 greater vision than the other two classes but less than 20 degrees of vision. S14 is for athletes with a learning difficulty.

Table Tennis:Table tennis is open to athletes with a physical or learning difficulty spread over 11 classes. Classes 1 to 5 encompass athletes competing from a wheelchair with class 1 being the most severely disabled and class 5 the least disabled. Classes 6 to 10 comprise ambulant athletes with class 6 the most severely disabled and class 10 the least. Class 11 is for athletes with a learning difficulty.

Tennis:Tennis is open to athletes with a mobility related disability which means that they cannot compete on equal terms with able bodied tennis players. The game is played from a wheelchair, with two classes, wheelchair and quadriplegic (disability in all four limbs).

Volleyball:Volleyball is open to athletes with a physical disability and has both a sitting and standing event. In sitting volleyball the court is smaller than standard and has a lower net. Standing volleyball uses a full sized court and normal height net. In the sitting games the only classification is the minimal disability ruling; athletes may compete if they have a disability that prevents them from competing on equal terms with able bodied athletes.

Wheelchair rugby:Athletes are classified on a points system similar to wheelchair basketball, with the most severely disabled athlete being graded 0.5 points rising to 3.5 points for the physically more able. Each team has four players and is allowed a maximum of 8 points on court at any one time.


The IPC has set up national Paralympic Games for competitions organized under the national Paralympic Committees.

See also


Further reading

  • P. David Howe, The Cultural Politics of the Paralympic Movement. Through an Anthropological Lens, Routledge, 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-28887-3
  • Peterson, Cynthia and Robert D. Steadward. Paralympics : Where Heroes Come, 1998, One Shot Holdings, ISBN 0968209203.
  • Thomas and Smith, Disability, Sport and Society, Routledge, 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-37819-2.

External links

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