Paralympic Summer Sports

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Introduction

Sport for athletes with an impairment has existed for more than 100 years, but It was not until after World War II that it was widely introduced. In 1944, at the request of the British Government, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann opened a Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Great Britain to assist the large number of war veterans and civilians who had been injured during the war. Sr. Ludwig Guttman was a huge believer in physical activity and sport to aid in the process of rehabilitation and reintegration back into society following a spinal cord injury. So sport for rehabilitation evolved to lead to recreational sport and then on to competitive sports.[1]

On 29 July 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games, a milestone in Paralympics history. They involved 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in archery. In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the Movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded.[1][2]

These Games later became the Paralympic Games which first took place in Rome, Italy in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. The Rome 1960 Paralympic Games was a tremendous step in sport for athletes with a physical impairment. The founder of the Paralympic Movement, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, and the Director of the Spinal Centre in Rome, Antonia Maglio, started preparations for the Games two years prior. It would be called the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games. Now regarded as the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games, the competition took place six days following the Closing Ceremony of the XVII Olympic Games and was supported by the Italian Olympic Committee and the Italian Institute for Disabled Workers (INAIL). A total of eight different sports debuted at the first-ever Paralympic Games, all of which were considered beneficial and suitable for athletes with spinal cord injuries including Archery, Athletics, Dartchery, Snooker, Swimming, Table Tennis, Wheelchair Fencing and Wheelchair Basketball. Sir Guttmann summed of the Games saying: “The vast majority of competitors and escorts have fully understood the meaning of the Rome Games as a new pattern of reintegration of the paralyzed into society, as well as the world of sport.” [1][3][4]

Since then they have taken place every four years and include a Paralympics Opening Ceremony and Paralympics Closing Ceremony. Since the Summer Games of Seoul, Korea in 1988 the Games have also taken part in the same cities and venues as the Olympics due to an agreement between the International Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. [3]

The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic”, therefore its meaning is that the Paralympics are the Parallel Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.[3]

Year Location Impairments Included
1960 Rome, Italy Spinal Cord Injury
1964 Tokyo, Japan Spinal Cord Injury
1968 Tel Aviv, Israel Spinal Cord Injury
1972 Heidleburg, Germany Spinal Cord Injury
1976 Toronto, Canada Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Other Similar Impairments
1980 Arnhem, Betherlands Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1984 Stoke Mandeville, UK

New York, USA

Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1988 Seoul, Korea Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1992 Barcelona, Spain Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1996 Atlanta, USA Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2000 Sydney, Australia Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2004 Athens, Greece Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2008 Beijing, China Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2012 London, UK Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2016 Rio, Brazil Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2020 Tokyo, Japan Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2024 Paris, France Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment
2028 Los Angeles, USA Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments, Intellectual Impairment

Archery

Archery has featured at every Paralympic Games since the first in Rome 1960. The sport has three different classifications and is comprised of individual and team events in both standing and wheelchair competitions. Athletes shoot from a distance at a target marked with 10 scoring zones. The object of the sport is to shoot arrows as close to the centre of a target as possible. Targets are 122cm in diameter, with the gold ring at the centre (worth a maximum 10 points) measuring just 12.2cm. Athletes shoot at the target from a distance of 70 metres. Athletes compete with both recurve bows - distinctive as the limbs curve outwards at the top – and compound bows, which feature mechanical pulleys, telescopic sights and release aids to assist in accuracy.

Men and women compete separately, both as individuals and in teams of three, and all matches are conducted as straight knockouts. Men’s and women’s individual (ST), (W1) and (W2).There are competitions for both recurve and compound bows, as well as a men’sand women’s team competition. Athletes with a physical impairment (such as spinal or nerve injury, limb loss or limb deficiency, cerebral palsy or other similar impairment). In archery, athletes are grouped into three classes for competition:

  • Standing (ST)  Athletes compete from a standing position
  • Wheelchair 1 (W1) Athletes compete from a seated position and have an impairment that affects their arms, legs and trunk
  • Wheelchair 2 (W2) Athletes compete from a seated position and have an impairment that affects their legs and trunk

Athletics

Athletics has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1960 and events are open to male and female athletes in all impairment groups eligible for Paralympic sport. Athletes compete according to their functional classifications in each event and these events are continually being redefined to include as many athletes as possible.

  • Track; 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10000m,4X100m, 4X400m
  • Field; Shot Put, Discus, Javelin, Club Throw, LongJump, High Jump
  • Road; Marathon
  • Combined; Pentathlon

Badminton

Badminton is a sport for all, accessible for men and women with a physical impairment. While only making its Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, badminton has been contested internationally since the 1990s, with the first World Championships taking place in Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 1998. The sports is governed by the Badminton World Federation in 2011, who is responsible for regulating, promoting and developing para badminton globally and promotes a "One Sport - One Team" Philosophy, badminton and para badminton together. As in badminton, para badminton athletes compete in;

  • Singles
  • Doubles
  • Mixed Doubles.

Athletes are classified into “Sport Classes” to ensure fairness in competition. In Para badminton there are six Sport Classes.

  • Wheelchair 1 WH 1 Players in this class requires a wheelchair to play badminton. Players in this Sport Class usually have impairment in both lower limbs and trunk function.
  • Wheelchair 2 WH 2 A player in this class could have impairment in one or both lower limbs and minimal or no impairment of the trunk.
  • Standing Lower SL 3 In this class a player must play standing. The player could have impairment in one or both lower limbs and poor walking/running balance.
  • Standing Lower SL 4 A second standing class where the player has a lesser impairment compared to Sport Class SL 3. The player could have impairment in one or both lower limbs and minimal impairment in walking/running balance.
  • Standing Upper SU 5 The player in this class has impairment of the upper limbs.
  • Short Stature SH 6 These are players who have a short stature due to a genetic condition often referred to as “dwarfism”.

Boccia

Making its debut as a Paralympic sport in 1984, Boccia tests each competitor’s degree of muscle control and accuracy. Competing in wheelchairs, athletes with severe impairments throw, kick or use a ramp device to propel leather balls as close as possible to a white ball which serves as the jack (target). Players compete in team and individual events on an equal level.

  • Singles
  • Pairs
  • Teams

Athletes with a physical impairment that affect their entire body (cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or other severe physical impairments such as muscular dystrophy). Athletes are classified into one of four classes depending on their functional ability. The Paralympic classes in boccia are 

BC1-BC4.

Canoe

Governed by the International Canoe Federation, Canoe made its Paralympic debut at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games with races contested by two types of boat, Kayak (K) and Va’a (V). The Kayak is propelled by a double-blade paddle, while the Va’a is an outrigger canoe which has an ama (second pontoon) as a support float and is used with a single-blade paddle. The sport has seen a swift rise in popularity since its debut in Rio 2016, with over 40 nations now represented at the World Championships.

Both kayak and va’a have three different classes of event for men and women, depending on the classification of an athlete’s impairment, with KL1, KL2 and KL3 for kayak and VL1, VL2 and VL3 for va’a. At international level all paracanoe races are individual events and competed at a distance of 200m.

Cycling

Cycling is a relatively new sport for Paralympians, with the visually impaired athletes the first group to take part. Cerebral palsy and athletes with limb loss or limb deficiency followed, joining the competition in 1984. Cycling is divided into track and road events. Cyclists with limb loss or deficiency, spinal cord or nerve damage; or cerebral palsy/ acquired brain injury or similar conditions compete in track and road events using bicycles modified for their needs. Riders may use a standard bike, handcycle or trike depending on their level of impairment.

  • Track Events; Time Trial, Individual Pursuit, Team Sprint, Tandem Sprint
  • Road Events; Road Race, Time Trial

Athletes with limb loss or deficiency, spinal cord or nerve damage; or cerebral palsy and acquired brain injury or similar conditions compete in track and road events using bicycles modified for their needs. Athletes are classified into classes depending on their functional ability.

C1-C5  Athletes Compete on Bicycle 

T1-T2  Athletes Compete on Tricycle 

H1- H4  Athletes Compete on Handcycle

Dance

While not currently part of the Paralympic Games Sports Programme, Para dance sport developed for athletes with a physical impairment that affects the lower limbs is an elegant, graceful and stylish sport which was first pioneered by Swedish native, Els-Britt Larsson in 1968 for recreational and rehabilitation purposes.The sports popularity continued to build throughout the 1970's with the first competition involving 30 couples organised in Vasteras, Sweden in 1975, with the first international competition staged two years later in 1977. Since 1998 the sport has been governed by the International Paralympic Committee and co-ordinated by the World Para Dance Sport Technical Committee, which incorporates the rules of the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF).

Dances include;

  • Standard dances include Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep.
  • Latin American dances include the Samba, Cha-Cha-Cha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.
  • Freestyle/Showdance can include the Standard Dances (Conventional) or any style for presentation (Folk, Hip Hop, Latin, Standard, Ballet, Contemporary, Street Dance, Salsa, Argentinean Tango, Cumbia, Belly Dance, etc.).
  • Formation dances for four, six or eight couples dancing in formation.

Equestrian

Para-Equestrian sport includes two competitive events: Dressage and Driving, both of which are conducted under the same basic rules as able-bodied equestrian sports, but with athletes divided into different competition grades based on their functional abilities. Para Dressage is the only Equestrian discipline included in the Paralympic Games and was first introduced at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games. Para Equestrian sport joined the ranks of the other 7 disciplines regulated by the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) in 2006. International events for both Dressage and Driving, for individuals with an impairment, were established making the FEI one of the first International Federations to govern and regulate a sport for both able-bodied athletes and athletes with impairments.

There are five classes, I, II, III, IV, and V with Grade I for riders with the greatest impairments and Grade V for the least impaired, with all events mixed gender. Dressage events include;

  • Grade 1 "Walk Only Tests", with Trot allowed in Freestyle.
  • Grade 2 "Walk and Trot Tests"
  • Grade 3 "Walk and Trot Tests" with Canter allowed in Freestyle.
  • Grade 4 "Walk, Trot and Canter" with lateral work allowed in Freestyle.
  • Grade 5 "Walk, Trot, Canter, Canter Half-Pirouettes, 3 and 4 Sequence Changes and Lateral Work."

Football

Football 5-A-Side

Football 5-a-side is an adaptation of football for athletes with a vision impairment with modified FIFA Rules. Governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), it first featured at the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004 and has bee involved in every Paralympic Gems since.

5-a-side football is played on a 40m long and 20m wide rectangular field, covered by kickboards to prevent the ball from going out of play. Teams are made up of four outfield players and one goalkeeper on each team and can can also have off-field guides to assist them. Players orient themselves on the field with the assistance of off-field guides and to the ball through the use of a ball that makes a noise No noise is allowed by spectators during play, who must remain silent whilst watching the game until a goal is scored.

All outfield players must be classified as completely blind (B1 category), which means they have very low visual acuity and/or no light perception and must wear eyeshades to ensure fair competition, while the goalkeeper must be sighted or partially sighted (B2 or B3 category).

Football 7-A-Side

Goalball

Goalball, played exclusively by athletes who are blind or vision impaired, has been included on the Paralympic Sport programme since the 1976 Toronto Games. Goverened by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian, Hanz Lorenzen, and German Sepp Reindle, in an effort to help in the rehabilitation of war veterans with severe visual impairment and blindness.

Goalball is played on an indoor court 18 metres long and 9 metres wide with string taped to the markings on the court to allow players to feel the lines and orientate themselves and goals placed at each end covering the entire nine-metre back-line. The object of the game is to throw a ball past the opponents and into their net to score points. Players stay on their hands and knees to defend their net and score against their opponents.Teams include up to 6 players, with only 3 players on court at a time. Opaque eyeshades are worn at all times to ensure fair competition. All international athletes must be legally blind, meaning they have less than 10 per cent vision, and are classified as a B3, a B2, or a B1 – totally blind.

Judo

Judo, played exclusively by athletes who are blind or have vision impairment, has been included on the Paralympic Sport programme since the 1988 Seoul Game, with events for women added in Athens 2004. Goverened by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), Paralympic Judo follows the same rules as Olympic Judo, except judokas hold each other’s suits throughout the combat, including at the start of the match. Combats last five minutes for men and four for women, the aim of which is to either gain more points by skilful attacks or score the “ippon” by throwing their opponent with their back on the ground, immobilising them or forcing a submission.

Only athletes with vision impairment are eligible to compete, with all the sight classes (B1, B2 and B3) competing together and divided according to the judokas’ weight. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games there were seven different male weight divisions and six female weight divisions: -48kg, -52kg, 57kg, -63kg, -70kg and +70kg.

Powerlifting

Rowing

Shooting

Swimming

Swimming has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1960 and events are open to male and female athletes in all impairment groups eligible for Paralympic sport who compete in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, medley and relay events. Athletes compete according to their functional classifications in each event and these events are continually being redefined to include as many athletes as possible. World Para Swimming, under the governance of the International Paralympic Committee, acts as the international federation for the sport. World Para Swimming uses the same rules as its Olympic counterpart, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), with some modifications where needed.

Table Tennis

Para-table tennis was included in the first ParalympicGames in 1960. Athletes from  compete in table tennis in standing and sitting (wheelchair) classes. Men and women compete individually and in doubles, as well as in team events. A match comprises five sets of 11 points each. The winner is the player or pair winning three of the five sets. The rules of the International Table Tennis Federation(ITTF) also apply to the Paralympic table tennis competitions with slight modifications regarding the serve rules for athletes competing in a wheelchair.

  • Individual Event
  • Team Event

Athletes with a physical impairment are classified into classes depending on their functional ability and whether they compete sitting or standing.

Taekwando

Taekwondo is a full contact martial art turned sport originating from Korea. Taekwondo has been adapted for athletes with an impairment and is referred to as "Para Taekwondo". Para Taekwondo holds athlete safety, fair and transparent rules and refereeing as the basis for competition. Goverened by World Taekwando, Taekwondo will make its Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Initially para-taekwondo focused on developing ‘kyorugi’ (sparring) for athletes who had limb deficiency with the first World Para-Taekwondo Championships held in 2009 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Since 2009 participation in the sport has been growing steadil, with an increase in events open to both athletes with a limb deficiency and wheelchair athletes. In 2014 Taekwondo was placed on the short list of candidates for the 2020 Paralympic Program, and on January 31, 2015 received the historic news that the IPC Governing Board had decided that taekwondo should be included on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games program.

Triathlon

Para-triathlon was added to the Paralympic Program in 2010 by the International Paralympic Committee. The sport will make its first appearance at the Paralympic Games at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Para-triathlon is a multidisciplinary endurance sport that challenges athletes to a continuous race over three disciplines: 750m of swimming, followed by 20km of cycling and 5km of running. The sport is designed to embrace as many athletes as possible while testing a variety of key skills. Competition categories are based on types of impairment. Depending on the category, an athlete may use a handcycle, tandem bicycle or bicycle on the bike course, while wheelchairs are permitted on the run portion. Paratriathlon events are for athletes with physical impairments.

•   Sprint Distance Triathlon - 750m swim, 20km bike, 5kmrun.

Athletes with a physical impairment are classified into classes depending on their functional ability. There are 5 classes for Para-triathlon.

Sitting Volleyball

Goverened by World ParaVolley, Sitting Volleyball is the most widely known and played form of ParaVolley thanks to its inclusion in the Paralympic Games since Arnhem in 1980, where it was first introduced for Men, with the women’s version only introduced at the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004. The rules for sitting Voleyball are based on the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball rules for able-bodied volleyball, with a few minor modifications including a smaller court (10m x 6m), a lower net (1.15m for men, 1.05m for women) and a portion of the athlete’s torso must be in contact with the ground at all times, with service blocks and attacks are allowed. It is a fast paced game, played in a best-of-five set format, with the first to reach 25 points (with at least a 2-point lead) winning the set.

Teams compete in male and female events, with six on the court at a time.

At grassroots level ParaVolley in all forms of the sport are often all fully integrated, which means that athletes with and without physical impairments can compete alongside one another on an equal court, which means that at a national level and below, anyone can play, regardless of age, ability, or gender.

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball was one of the foundation sports on the Paralympic program in Rome in 1960. Today, it continues to be one of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games.

To be eligible, athletes must have an objective and measurable permanent physical impairment in their lower limbs which prevents them from running, jumping and pivoting as an able-bodied player. Players are assigned a point value from 1.0 to 4.5 –according to their level of physical function. A team must not exceed 14.0 points for the five players on the court. This ensures that each player has an integral role to play in the team structure, regardless of the degree of their impairment. Observed trunk movements and stability during actual basketball participation, not medical diagnosis form the basis of player classification. 

  • Mens 
  • Womens 

Athletes with a physical impairment that impacts upon their lower limbs, such as spinal cord injury, peripheral nerve damage, limb loss or limb deficiency, cerebral palsy or other similar impairment. Athletes are classified into one of 8 classes depending on their functional ability. Classes range from 1.0 – 4.5 points.

Wheelchair Fencing

Wheelchair fencing was developed by Sir Ludwig Guttmann at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital and was introduced to the world at the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games. Although sword fighting dates back thousands of years, modern-day fencing and wheelchair fencing is a fast-moving battle of tactics and techniques. Their wheelchairs are fastened to the floor during competition.

  • Men's and Women's Individual Epée and Foil
  • Men's Sabre
  • Men's Foil Team
  • Women's Epée Team

Men and women with spinal cord injuries, nerve injuries, limb loss or limb deficiency, cerebral palsy or other similar impairments are eligible to compete in foil epee (men and women) and saber (men) events. Wheelchair fencing is divided into two classes:

  • Category A - athletes have good trunk control and their fencing arm is not affected by their impairment
  • Category B - athletes have an impairment that affects either their trunk or their fencing arm

Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair rugby is an intense, physical team sport for male and female athletes with an impairment in both upper and lower limbs. The sport can be very physical as athletes attempt to carry the ball over the opponent's goal line. The four players on the court cannot exceed a combined total of 8 points. A volleyball is used and it can be carried, dribbled, or passed in any way except by kicking. The ball must be bounced at least once every 10 seconds and rugby is played in eight-minute quarters. The players are classified according to their level of functional ability and are assigned a point value from 0.5 to 3.5 points - the higher the points, the more functional ability the athletes have. 

  • Mixed - Males & Females 

Athletes with a physical impairment that affects all four limbs, such as spinal cord injury (quadriplegia), limb loss in both arms and legs, or an equivalent impairment are classified into one of seven classes according to their level of functional ability and are assigned a point value from 0.5 to 3.5 Points. The higher the points, the more functional ability the athletes have. Players are classified into one of seven classes ranging from 

Wheelchair Tennis

Wheelchair Tennis first appeared at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. In Wheelchair Tennis the ball is allowed to bounce twice - the first bounce must be within the bounds of the court. For athletes to compete, they must have a permanent substantial or total loss of function in one or both legs. For the quad division, the eligibility criteria requires a player to have an impairment in three or more limbs. The events are singles (between two players) and doubles (between two pairs). The winner of a match is determined by the first to win two sets:

  • Singles
  • Doubles

Athletes with a physical impairment, who have significant or total loss of function in one or both legs due to conditions such as spinal or nerve injury, limb loss or limb deficiency, cerebral palsy or other lower limb impairment.

Resources

International Paralympic Committee

Founded on 22 September 1989 as an international non-profit organisation, the IPC is an athlete-centred organisation composed of an elected Governing Board, a management team and various Standing Committees and Councils. The IPC’s primary responsibilities are to support our 200 plus members develop Para sport and advocate social inclusion, ensure the successful delivery and organisation of the Paralympic Games and act as the international federation for 10 Para sports. They can provide information on the disability sport organisations responsible for paralympic sport within each of their 200 plus member countries.

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