THROUGH WINDOWS IN THE SKY – From the Editor’s Desktop
The Paralymic Games, 2008, have been the grandest ever. More than five thousand media representatives from round the globe covered the Games. There were more than a thousand hours of programme broadcast and about two million spectators watched the games at the Olympic village. Nearly 4000 athletes from 147 countries participated – more athletes than ever before and more than 470 gold medals were awarded in 20 sports. Still, I have some reservations. Why should we play the same games as the non-disabled? After all, ours is a special games, not integrated with the actual Olympic games? Though it takes place at the same venue, aren’t we treated differently? Can’t we design special disciplines that will suit our capabilities rather than designing devices to help us play the same games the non-disabled play?
On the other hand, if we have to have the same events as the non-disabled, why don’t we be part of the actual Olympic Games instead of having a separate Paralympic Games? After all, women compete separately from men; can’t the disabled compete separately from the non-disabled under the banner of the Olympic Games itself rather than have a segregated Paralympic Games? Isn’t that what real inclusion is all about?
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SANGHAMITRA VOL.1, ISSUE 7, OCTOBER 2008
WHY SHOULD WE PLAY?
The extract here is from UN Enable, the United Nations’ special site for people with disabilities. The highlights are mine, to draw your attention to some very pertinent remarks.
“Sports play a role in communities large and small. From informal recreational matches and contests, to organized sports leagues and federations, people participate: they play, coach, train, and support their favourite athletes and teams. From indigenous sports to global sporting events, sport has “convening power”. Where opportunities for recreational sport and play are absent, individuals and entire communities are often acutely aware of what they are missing.
“Sports can contribute to economic and social development, improving health and personal growth for people of all ages and groups. Sports can promote accessibility, provide economic opportunities and generate employment. International sporting events can raise awareness regarding the accessibility of infrastructure including transportation, communication systems, the built environment and public space.
“Sports can also help build a culture of peace and tolerance by bringing people together on common ground, crossing national and other boundaries to promote understanding and mutual respect. In the 2005 World Summit Outcome world leaders stated: “We underline that sports can foster peace and development and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding…” As noted in the 2006 Secretary-General’s report on “Sport for Development and Peace: the way forward”, sports can play a role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by contributing to education, health, development and peace in developing countries. Furthermore, as it is a universal language, it can bridge social divides often experienced by persons with disabilities.
DISABILITY AND SPORT – A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE PARALYMPICS
The idea for Parallel Olympics, or Paralympics, has its origin in the work of Sir Ludwig Gutman, a neurosurgeon.
During the Second World War, he had to treat soldiers, sailors and airmen with various injuries that were debilitating. As these men were young, the doctor felt that it would do their morale a lot of good to participate in physical activity. He began organising wheelchair polo in the corridors of the hospital, with physiotherapists playing alongside the patients. Local clubs in England, where the good doctor was, at that time, also started games for the disabled.
The games proved to be so popular that, in 1948, Sir Gutman organised a regular competition for World War II athletes in Stoke Mandeville, England, where he had moved to when the War began in 1939. These games were held on the same day as the Olympics. Four years later, the Stoke Mandeville International Games Federation was created.
The Games were held every year till 1960, when an Olympic-style event was held in Rome. Subsequently, the Paralympics have been held in the same year as the Olympics, but it was only since the Seoul Olympics, 1988, that they have been held in the same country.
Four hundred wheel chair athletes from 23 countries participated in 12 events in 1960. The events included snooker, fencing, javelin, shot put, Indian club throwing, men’s basketball, swimming, table tennis, archery, dart archery and pentathlon [archery, swimming, javelin, shot put and club throwing]. Eight years later, in Tel Aviv, the number of participating athletes had almost doubled and meet records were being broken! The number of spectators had doubled, to around 10,000. By 1984, the number of spectators had swelled to 80,000. For the Beijing Paralympics, two million tickets were sold!
The first ever Paralympics Winter Games took place in 1976 in Sweden.
The earliest international competition for people with a disability, however, was the International Silent Games held in Paris in 1924. Mr Eugene Rubens-Alcais of France and Mr Antoine Dresse of Belgium pioneered the Games. Except during World War II, these games have been held every four years, ever since, though the name has undergone periodical changes. Now called the Deaflympics, the winter version of these games were ushered in at Seefeld, Austria in 1949.
The Special Olympics World Games for people with mental disabilities actually began as a summer day camp for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In 1962 Eunice Kennedy Shriver began this initiative at her home in the USA. By 1968, this small initiative had gathered so much momentum that it became a full fledged Games, held at Chicago. The first Winter Special Olympics World Games were held in 1977 in Colorado, USA.