Guttmann was fully aware of the positive and psychological benefits of physical activity; as a young man back in Germany he enjoyed Fencing and once at Stoke Mandeville insisted sport, including individual and team sports, became integral to the rehabilitation programme. And it was the sport of Archery that led to the very first competition between disabled athletes.
'"I foresaw the time when this sports event would be truly international and the Stoke Mandeville Games, would achieve world fame as the disabled person’s equivalent of the Olympic Games."'The Cord, 1949
Quite why Guttmann chose July 28,1948 to host an Archery event between two teams of disabled athletes, exactly the same day more than 4,000 non-disabled athletes from 59 countries took part in the Opening Ceremony of the XIV Olympic Games at Wembley, is unclear.
Whether it was coincidence, or a stroke of genius, hardly matters because July 28, 1948 became a moment in history; the day 16 former service personnel (14 men and two women) took to the lawns at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for an Archery contest.
On one side, the Star and Garter Home in Richmond, Surrey, on the other Stoke Mandeville.
The Star and Garter won. A cup was presented and the first recorded competition between disabled athletes had taken place.
It may have been one event on one day with a tiny number of participants but it was from this other disabled competitions grew, the significance of which was not lost on Guttmann. ‘Small as it was, it was a demonstration to the public that competitive sport is not the prerogative of the able-bodied’ (Goodman, Collins, 1986).
In 1949, just a year later, more hospitals and participants took part in a summer sports festival which became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games. It was here Guttmann uttered the words for which he has forever been associated with: ‘I foresaw the time when this sports event would be truly international and the Stoke Mandeville Games would achieve world fame as the disabled person’s equivalent of the Olympic Games’ (The Cord, 1949).
It may have taken a while but Guttmann’s prophesy has come to pass. Today the Paralympic Games are the disabled person’s equivalent of the Olympic Games.