HISTORY FACTS AND FIGURES
The Paralympics in London have set new standards for the sports for the disabled. A sport event never seen before that gave hope for a change of mind in modern society.
The idea of the Paralympics started right after the Second World War. On July 28, 1948 the first Olympic Summer Games after the war took place in Great Britain. At the same time and very close to the Olympic site the International Stoke Mandeville Games started. In these Games for the disabled, 16 during the war injured men and women competed in the discipline of archery. That was the birth for todays Paralympics.
Founder of this idea was the Neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who had fled to England during the German Nazi regime. In 1944 he was asked by the British Government to set up the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. His basic treatment approach for treating paralyzed people is valid until today. Guttmann discovered that a paralyzation was not understood correctly and therefore care was insufficient. Due to that he invented “Comprehensive Care” where patients were actively and from a very early stage on involved in their rehabilitation process in order to gain self confidence and motivation for a quicker recovery. Sport was a big part of it, so that the physical and psychological disabled functions could be compensated to prevent a worsen of the situation. From the very beginning Gutmann wanted to set up the competitions equal to the Olympic Games so they would have an identical meaning for the disabled.
In 1952 already 130 Athletes competed at the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1960 Gutmann reached his goal. For the first Paralympics in Rome 400 Athletes from 21 Nations (wheel chair only) participated. Over the years more and more disciplines were added: Track and field, Weight lifting, Shooting, Swimming, Table tennis, Wheelchair racing, Wheelchair rugby and Wheelchair volleyball. The Games were ment to be so much more than just a sports event. A lot of the participating Athletes were injured during war and the Games opened up the road back to a normal life. They wanted to demonstrate what is possible, what you can do despite your handicap. Results and medals were important but not the only reason to compete.
The story of the Paralympics had its ups and downs. During the Olympic Summer Games 1984 in Los Angeles, the commercial organization committee refused to implement the “International Games for Disabled”. The Games were then split between Hempsted, New York and Stoke Mandeville.
Since 1988 the Olympic and Paralympic Games are operated on the same site. In that same year the wording Paralympics was used for the first time. On June 19.,1991 the International Olympic and International Paralympic Committee signed a declaration for the course of action starting for the Summer Paralympics in 1992.
Since the Summer Games in 2012 all cities which apply for the Olympic Games have to include the Paralympics into their application. From this moment on a combined organization on the same site is mandatory.
So far the Paralympics have never received the same amount of media attention as the Olympic Games did. Outstanding results were singled out and aired but live broadcast was barely available and footage was only aired during off-times. Change kicked in in 1996 in Atlanta when over 3,000 Athletes participated at the Paralympics. In Sydney 2000 the number went up to 4,000 Athletes and in 2008 Bejing the Paralympics were used to present the world a modern China. A China with about 80 million disabled people. When the Paralympics returned to their birth country in 2012 the expectations were huge. 4,200 Athletes from 150 nations were competing against each other. 2,7 million tickets were sold where in Bejing the number was 1,3 million and in Athens 850.000. Air footage was almost available around the clock and the Paralympics were the biggest sport event after the Olympics.
The Paralympic Games are supposed to break down the walls in body and mind. People with disabilities shall be relieved of simple daily burdens that make their life difficult. They should be integrated and be part of a modern society.
“Sport has the power to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.