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A History of Disability Sport

A brief history of disability sports...

For today's blog we thought that we would go into the history of disability sport. These individuals and events have paved the way for Inclusive Sports to get where they are today. So… Where did it all begin? 1904 Over one hundred years ago, George Eyser, a German American gymnast was the first disabled person in history to win medals at the Olympic games with a prosthetic leg. He won six medals in a single day, three gold and two silver. 1924 Deaf athletes have their first international competition, which was called the International Silent Games in Paris, France. Today, it is known as the Deaflympics, and is the longest running disability sporting event to exist. The officiation of the games is also inclusive, with rules such as waving a flag and using lights instead of blowing a whistle, or using a starter pistol to commence, as well as the audience being instructed to wave instead of clap. 1944 Ludwig Guttman was a Jewish doctor who worked in Stoke Mandeville hospital in a spinal care unit. He held several different competitive exercises for the patients, such as a race for war veterans to get changed into their clothes and into their wheelchairs to help their mobility. Little did he know at this point the dramatic effect he would have on disability sports. 1948 Ludwig Guttman holds the first official games for disabled veterans at the Stoke Mandeville hospital on the morning of the London Olympics. The archery event included a total of 16 participants. This was called the Stoke Mandeville games, and later evolved into the Paralympic games as we know then today. 1950 Disability sports is now beginning to attract more attention. This year, 10,000 people watched a wheelchair netball match at Empress Hall in London. Disability Sports is now branching away from exclusively including wounded veterans and beginning to involve those who had been injured in industrial accidents such as mining. 1960 The ninth Stoke Mandeville games takes place in Rome, Italy. It includes 400 athletes from across a span of 23 countries, with a total of 53 events to participate in. 1962 Eunice Kennedy Shriver (the sister of past President John F Kennedy) opened a day camp for children with special needs to play together and socialise in a safe, monitored space to improve their well-being, fitness, and mobility. The structure and activities were very much like we do today at Inclusive Sports! Also in this year, individuals living with spinal injuries and polio were allowed to take part in Commonwealth games for the very first time. 1968 Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s day camp has now evolved, and the first official Special Olympics is held in Washington DC, in the United States. An event where ability is concentrated on more than disability- as well as progress more than success. Again some similarities could be made with our very own Inclusive Sports! 1969 The Stoke Mandeville stadium in Buckinghamshire opens its doors, which is now the worldwide hub for disability sports. It is still open for business and providing disability sports services to this very day! 1975 The Boston marathon is the first ever major marathon to permit wheelchair use, after allowing entrant Bob Hall to take part. He finishes with a time of 2.58. 1976 This was a big year for disability sports! Specialised racing wheelchairs are introduced at the Paralympics, specifically designed for sporting events to make for more monitored and safe participation. As well as this, events for amputees and visually impaired athletes were held for the very first time. But that’s not all! The very first winter Paralympic games were also held this very same year! 1980 Those with cerebral palsy are now officially allowed for the very first time to qualify for the Paralympic games, another huge for disability sport! 1986 The international sports federation for persons with intellectual disability was formed to support elite competitions for those with special educational needs. This meant there was more support and validation of the athletes, and most importantly- they are being taken a lot more seriously! This year, the challenge cup series for top wheelchair basketball teams were also launched. 1988 The official term ‘Paralympics’ is created, and the games are no longer known as the Stoke Mandeville games. This stems from the Greek preposition para which translates to ‘alongside’- representing how the games co-exist with the Olympics. 1989 The international Paralympic committee (better known as the IPC) is formed. They are responsible for running Paralympic movements and parasport around the globe. They ensure that all the athletes are supported as well as monitoring the games to a safe and professional standard. 1995 The first wheelchair rugby world championships are held in Switzerland, this was initially called ‘Murderball’ before it was changed to a much less intimidating and simple name! 1998 The first person living with a disability reaches the summit of Mount Everest. This was American man Tom Whittaker who lost his right foot in a car accident- he managed to complete the climb after three previous attempts. Since then, 15 people with disabilities have also successfully reached the top! 2001 Wheelchair tennis takes place for the very first time at Wimbledon, marking the first time that the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world recognised disability sport. 2002 Erik Weihenmayer, a visually impaired mountain climber, wins the award for Best athlete with a disability at the ESPY’s after he was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001. This is one of the first large ceremonial celebrations of an athlete in disability sport. 2008 Disability sport charity wheel-power launch ‘Wheel Appeal’ to provide sports wheelchairs, allowing more disabled individuals to get involved with professional, competitive sport. This broadens opportunities for disabled athletes to take part in more sporting events. 2012 4,200 disabled athletes participate in twenty different sporting events at the 2012 London Paralympic games. 2016 At the 2016 summer Paralympics held in Rio De Janeiro, a total of more than 200 world records are set, and it is the second most attended Paralympic event in the world. 2020 Chris Nikic is the first person with Downs Syndrome to complete the notorious Ironman triathlon. He completed it in a time of 16 hours. 46 minutes and 9 seconds. For his achievement he was awarded with the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at the 2021 ESPY awards. 2021 In 2021, there were several different sports events that were held, such as:

  • The World Curling Championship

  • The Wheelchair Tennis Singles and Doubles Masters

  • The Wheelchair Fencing World Cup

  • The European Boccia Championships

  • The European Wheelchair Basketball Championships

2022 So… where are we up to in 2022? Disability sports have come a massive way since its origin in 1904. With more and more inclusive outlets opening across the world, there are more opportunities for disability sports than ever before. There are over 20 disability sporting events this year alone. The Paralympic games are still going strong, with a total of over 20 million viewers tuning in this year to watch the 2020 Tokyo games, making it the most viewed disability sport event in the world to date. Disabled athletes are finally getting the recognition they deserve after a long battle, and we feel it is so important to recognise the fantastic individuals who persevered and got us to where we are today. Without a lot of these events, Inclusive Sports Academy wouldn’t exist, and neither would plenty of other fantastic organisations across the world! We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief history of disability sport! Have we missed any major disability sports events? Let us know!

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