Below is a list of some of the sports and events that have previously been on the summer ‘Paralympic’ programme. I’ve put the word Paralympic in inverted commas because I’ve also included some sports and events from the early Stoke Mandeville Games (that went on to become the Paralympic Games in Olympic Years). None of these sports or events are on the current Paralympic programme. Some are instantly recognisable, some you may never have heard of!
‘Net-ball’ was added to the programme for the second Stoke Mandeville Games held on 27th July 1949 (Image). This was a kind of hybrid of netball (an English game played in schools) and basketball played in wheelchairs and using netball posts for goals. It was played mainly by men, but women were allowed to play. In 1955 netball was replaced with wheelchair basketball, which is a major sport on the Paralympic programme today. Women’s wheelchair basketball was first added to the Paralympic programme in Tel Aviv in 1968.
Snooker was the fourth sport to be added to the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1951. Although it was part of the summer Paralympic Games programme right up until Seoul in 1988 many of the host nations were unfamiliar with the sport and the tables and equipment, which were both very heavy and expensive often had to be shipped to the host city from England in order for the sport to take place.
Archery-darts or dartchery as its name was shortened to was first demonstrated at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1953 and added to the competitive programme in 1954. This game began at the Chaseley home in Eastbourne, where a team of wheelchair archers would take on teams of non-disabled darts players from pubs and clubs in the area. The non-disabled darts players would play their normal game throwing at the normal board. The wheelchair archers would use a bow and arrow shooting at a board exactly three times the normal size of a standard dart board at a distance of thirty feet. Out of seven matches played in October and November 1952 the Chaseley team won five, drew one and only lost one match. The only difficulty they had was finding a venue with enough space. Dartchery remained on the Paralympic programme for wheelchair athletes up until Arnhem in 1980.
The pentathlon event was added to the Stoke Mandeville Games programme in 1959 and remained on the Paralympic programme until Arnhem in 1980. Although the results were always listed under ‘Athletics’ this pentathlon event was actually a combination of three sports – Archery, Athletics (Track & Field) and Swimming. The athletics events were usually Shot Putt, Javelin and a track sprint. Distances for the track sprint and swimming race and the type of archery round shot (eg. Colombia, FITA) were dependent upon the severity of the disability.
Precision Javelin was an event for wheelchair athletes added to the programme for the first time at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960. It is a combination of javelin throwing and archery. The throwing position was exactly the same as for a normal javelin throwing competition, but instead of trying the throw the javelin as far as they could the competitors would throw at a target marked out on the floor. The target was a series of concentric circles, with the largest being three metres in diameter decreasing by forty centimetres in diameter with each circle until the final centre circle, which was twenty centimetres in diameter. Men would throw from a line ten metres from the middle of the centre circle and women from a line seven metres away. Points were awarded depending upon which circle the javelin point landed in with the most points being awarded for the centre circle. So, as with archery, the key object of the exercise was accuracy and control. The individual with the highest points total after a set number of throws was declared the winner. Precision Javelin ceased to be a Paralympic event after the Toronto games in 1976.
Wheelchair Slalom was designed to test the speed, agility and control of the wheelchair user over a specially designed course for which they were timed and time penalties were added for each obstacle or trick they failed to complete successfully. The individual with the lowest or fastest time at the end was declared the winner. It was first added to the programme of the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1963 and was competed for at the Paralympic Games from Tokyo in 1964 until Seoul in 1988. Although no longer part of the Paralympic programme the Wheelchair Slalom is still used at many disability sports events for wheelchair users around the world today, including those in electric wheelchairs.
Lawn Bowls (Image) was added to the programme of the 1963 Stoke Mandeville Games, but didn’t make it onto the summer Paralympic Games programme until Tel Aviv in 1968. However, a bit like Snooker, Lawn Bowls was a sport little played outside of Commonwealth Nations and so finding suitable venues proved problematic. So much so that it was dropped from the programme for Barcelona 1992 and although it returned in Atlanta 1996 that was the last time Lawn Bowls was played at a Paralympic Games.
With the addition of other impairment groups to the Paralympic Games in Toronto 1976 came the addition of a number of new sports for athletes other than those in wheelchairs. One such sport was standing volleyball for amputees. Sitting volleyball for a range of impairments was added in Arnhem 1980, but after Sydney 2000 standing volleyball was removed from the programme by the International Paralympic Committee on the grounds that it did not meet the criteria set for inclusion in the Paralympic programme. This has caused much controversy in countries such as Cambodia, who are very successful in standing amputee volleyball and feel that their right to show the world what they are capable of has been removed from them.
Wrestling for the blind, similar to American High School Wrestling, was added to the programme in Arnhem in 1980 and was also competed for in New York in 1984. In Arnhem, the competition was totally dominated by the United States and Canada, who were the only two teams to send wrestling competitors. In Arnhem a blind Judo demonstration was held in the sports hall at Papendal organised by Great Britain, Israel and the Netherlands. Eleven judokas, three with black belts, took part from the three organising countries plus Japan. Blind judo went on to replace blind wrestling at the Paralympics in Seoul eight years later and remains on the programme to this day.
Cross Country Running
Cross country running for athletes with cerebral palsey appeared on the Paralympic programme only once – in New York in 1984.