As Able As Anyone


The Ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival that took place in Olympia in honor of Zeus, the father of Greek gods and goddesses. They began in 776 BCE and were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries. It took 1503 years for the Olympics to return in Athens, Greece, in 1896, thanks to Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

While sport has value in everyone’s life, it is even more important in the life of a person with disability thanks to its rehabilitative influence. Adaptive sports, also known as disability sports or parasports, are sports played by persons with disability, whether physical or intellectual. As many disabled sports are based on existing able-bodied sports, modified to meet the needs of persons with a disability, they are sometimes referred to as adaptive sports.

The number of people with disabilities involved in sports and physical recreation is steadily increasing around the world with organized sports for athletes with disabilities divided into three main disability groups: deaf, people with physical disabilities, and people with intellectual disabilities. Each group has a distinct history, organization, competition program, and approach to sports.

Against All Odds

Sport for athletes with impairment has existed for more than one century; the first sport clubs for the deaf were already in existence in 1888, in Berlin. The first sportsman who competed at the Olympic Games was Hungarian, Karoly Takacs, who did not have a right arm; he competed in shooting in 1948 and 1952. The second competitor in Equestrian events was Lis Hartel, a Danish woman who was paralyzed by polio, but still won the silver medal.

In 1944, at the request of the British Government, Sir Ludwig Guttmann opened a spinal injuries center at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain. In time, rehabilitation sport evolved to recreational sport, then to competitive sport. To promote the rehabilitation of soldiers following World War II, in 1948, Guttmann organized a multi-sport event between several hospitals to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Guttmann’s event, known then as the Stoke Mandeville Games, became an annual sports festival.

For the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Guttmann brought 400 athletes to compete in the “Parallel Olympics”, which became known as the first Paralympics. Since then, the Paralympics have been held in every Olympic year. The Paralympics has grown from a small gathering of British World War II veterans to become one of the largest international sporting events by the early 21st century. It has grown from 400 athletes with a disability, from 23 countries in 1960, to thousands of competitors from over 100 countries in the London 2012 Games.

Given the wide variety of disabilities that Paralympic athletes have, there are several categories in which the athletes compete. Permissible disabilities are categorized into ten eligible impairment types: impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia(1), ataxia(2), athetosis(3), vision impairment, and intellectual impairment. These categories are further broken down into classifications, which vary from sport to sport.

If There Is A Will

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will feature 22 sports, one of which is archery, which has the greatest Paralympic history of all sports. Originally, athletes were grouped into three classes depending on their degree of impairment: W1 (impairment in all four limbs, uses a wheelchair), W2 (full arm function, uses a wheelchair), and ST (in which athletes stand or sit in a chair). Currently, W2 and ST are combined as an open class at the Paralympic Games.

Originally developed as a sport for blind athletes, who first competed using tandem bicycles, cycling is now one of the largest and most varied sports of the Paralympic Games. The popularity of the sport with both athletes and spectators is reflected in the fact that 50 gold medals in cycling will be awarded at Tokyo 2020, with a total of 230 athletes competing. Athletes with physical or visual impairments compete in cycling, divided into four classes: impairment to all four limbs (C), use of upper half of body only (H), cerebral palsy (T), and visual impairments (B). Finer divisions exist to account for the degree of impairment, and events are split by gender.

Offering skill and drama in equal measure, football 5-a-side is played by athletes with visual impairment; they must pass, tackle, and shoot by relying on the sound of the ball, which has a noise-making device inside, and the voice of their guide. Each team consists of four outfield players and one goalkeeper who can be fully sighted or partially sighted. Although the outfield players may have different degrees of visual impairment, all four must wear blackout masks to ensure fairness. To keep players safe, they must say “voy” or a similar word when moving towards an opponent, tackling, or searching for the ball.

The guide stands behind the opposition goal and communicates information, such as the distance to the goal and location of other players; the team coach and the goalkeeper are also permitted to give cues during a game. Spectators must stay silent during play so that the players can hear the ball moving and respond to the voice of their guide. Like its 11-a-side counterpart, Paralympic 5-a-side football is a fast and physically demanding game. Players not only need to have speed, strength, and stamina, but also excellent spatial awareness despite their lack of vision, allowing them to be effective on the pitch and play together as a team.

Sitting Volleyball is played by two teams of six players, who remain seated with the rears on the floor. The ball used is the same as that for standing volleyball; the major differences are a smaller court and a lower net, allowing the players to remain seated while playing. Players must always keep their rears on the floor when serving, spiking, or blocking; only when receiving the ball can they lift their rears off the floor momentarily.

The above are just a few examples of how Paralympians brilliantly shine despite adversity in ways abled athletes cannot match without ardent training. Paralympians are simply the perfect manifestation of human will, and ability to persevere and overcome physical and intellectual hardship.


  1. Hypertonia is a condition in which there is excessive muscle tone so that arms or legs, for example, are stiff and difficult to move. Muscle tone is regulated by signals that travel from the brain to the nerves and notify the muscle to contract.
  2. Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Symptoms include slurred speech, stumbling, falling, and incoordination; all are related to degeneration of the part of the brain, the cerebellum, which is responsible for coordinating movement. Ataxia is a disease that affects people of all ages; age of symptom-onset can vary widely, from childhood to late-adulthood. Complications from the disease are serious, frequently debilitating, and can be life-shortening.
  3. Athetosis is a condition in which abnormal muscle contraction causes involuntary writhing movements. It affects some people with cerebral palsy, impairing speech and use of the hands.


This article is published in SCIplanetSummer 2018 Issue "Science and Sports".

About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781

Become a member

© 2023 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina