Today the Paralympic Games is the biggest multi-sport event for disabled athletes in the world. Participation spans 160 countries and covers six classification groups from those with spinal cord injuries to the visually impaired. At the London 2012 Games more than 4,200 athletes competed in 20 sports watched by television audiences around the world.
"The aims of sport for the disabled, as well as the non-disabled, are to develop mental activity, self-confidence, self-discipline, a competitive spirit and comradeship."Ludwig Guttmann
The Games has expanded beyond recognition from the early days of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and, in all likelihood, surpassed even the wildest aspirations of creator, Ludwig Guttmann, a German neurosurgeon who escaped Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany to find refuge and an unlikely, ultimately visionary, cause in Britain.
The Paralympians of London 2012 were recognised as elite disabled sportsmen and women competing in the same city, and venues, as their Olympic counterparts. For their very early predecessors though it was a very different story.
Whether from Britain, or abroad, many of those competing at London 2012 were born long after Guttmann’s death in 1980. And yet the recognition and respect the current generation of Paralympic athletes enjoy owes much to Guttmann's steadfast commitment to restoring confidence and self-belief to those, who through accident or illness, had become disabled.
And he did it, predominantly, through the medium of sport.
*With thanks to Cathy Wood and Carlton Publishing for their assistance with these pages.
By the late 1950s Guttmann, the Italian Istituto Nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro (INAIL) and a spinal unit in Rome were already discussing the possibility of holding the 1960 Stoke Mandeville International Games outside Britain for the first time. Read More