Monthly Archives: June 2012

Different forms of ‘violence’ used against people with disabilities

The adaptation of Galtung’s Triangle of Violence, below, highlights some of the ways in which people with disabilities have historically been ‘victims’ of various kinds of violence around the world (See figure 1). For the purposes of this post violence is defined by the World Health Organisation as:

“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” 

(World Health Organisation website, 2010)

Direct Violence

Extermination of people with disabilities has occurred throughout history from ancient times for a variety of reasons including some religious beliefs that held that people with disabilities were evil, to modern genetic engineers who put a modern spin on the need to exterminate anything that might interfere with ideal or ‘normal’ development of the human body, for example Nazi Germany.

In earlier societies, particularly in the medieval period where many of the court jesters were individuals with different appearances or mental functions (e.g. dwarfs, hunchbacks), those who held power were prone to ridicule and taunt those who were disabled in some way. (So called ‘Freak Shows’ would be a more modern day example of this) Even today individuals with disabilities frequently have to endure rude, ignorant and offensive comments. Our language is full of expressions that have a tendency to poke fun at those with disabilities (for example cripple, retard).

Although the more extreme forms of visible direct violence such as extermination may not be anywhere near as prevalent today (although this is not say that it does not still happen in more isolated areas or individual cases) other forms of visible violence such as abortion and even euthanasia still occur, often legally within society even though both practices come under heavy criticism from a number of different sources.

Structural Violence

In addition to the usually reported issues of poverty and an inaccessible built environment there are a number of other issues that come under the heading of structural violence. Up to the early 1900s, it was very common to institutionalise any individual who somehow deviated significantly from the norm. Although this was viewed as the humane thing to do, many acknowledge that institutions were created to protect the non-disabled from those with disabilities.

The hiding away by families of family members who are disabled can occur as a result of a variety of cultural and/ or religious reasons. The central precept of Buddhism revolves around ‘Karma’ whereby actions in this life dictate the level of existence in the next. At a conceptual level, this often means that disability is seen as a punishment for bad actions committed in previous lives. Persons with a disability, especially in rural areas are, therefore, often hidden by their families who are afraid for their reputations in the wider community – specifically the very Asian idea of ‘losing face’. In Kenya, in the 1980s, 50% of Kenyans with disabilities had no children, compared to the average Kenyan family of six or more children (Crawford, 2005; p.13). Crawford attributes this fact to myths surrounding passing on ‘bad blood’ combined with perceptions that people with disabilities are ‘asexual, unable to care for children, or are medically incapable’ (Crawford, 2005; p.13). This concept of ‘bad blood’, similar to the idea of karma described above, plays a key part in impacting the way many people with disabilities are treated in Kenya compared to the non-disabled. However, non-disabled family members of people with disabilities may also be deemed to be tainted by the same curse, meaning whole families may be treated differently or even shunned.

Unequal access to services can result from many different situations and not just in relation to what those in the non-disabled section of society receive. For many years disabled war veterans in Israel have benefited from a system of benefits that means that they receive far better care and financial benefits than Israeli individuals injured as a result of birth defects or traumatic injuries or illness later in life. Indeed Dr Yaniv Poria, author of a study on the disabled in Israel stated that ‘it is common among disabled people in Israel to say that it is better to become disabled during your army service than as a result of birth or an accident’ (Brinn, 2004). Gal and Bar (2005) claim that disabled war veterans are more highly regarded within Israeli society than other disabled due to the fact that they received their disabilities in fighting in the name of Israel. Gal and Bar differentiate between the ‘needed’ and the ‘needy’ disabled individuals with the ‘needed’ disabled individuals having much higher status and far better care and remuneration than the ‘needy’ individuals, due to the sacrifices they made ‘in the name of an array of social values’(Gal & Bar, 2005; p.592).

Cultural Violence

Emotional responses to disability such as fear, hatred, dismissiveness or pity can have major impacts upon the way people within non-disabled society interact with people with disabilities. Even the reaction of close friends to a sudden acquired disability can cause problems in a previously close friendship as Danny (in Brittain, 2002; p.138) pointed out following the loss of his right arm at the shoulder during a car accident:

“a lot of them found it very difficult, obviously, to come to terms with it. More so than me. And they found it hard to be around me, friends that I’d had for years.”

(Danny)

The fact that many of Danny’s long term friends found it hard to be around him following his accident appears to be in line with Hogan’s (1999) contention that an acquired disability signifies a massive change in social status in the eyes of those around them. It is likely that a general lack of understanding of disability and the issues surrounding it were to blame for the difficulty of Danny’s friends in accepting his disability, for as Chris (in Brittain, 2002; p.138) so concisely put it:

“They have very little knowledge of people with a disability and instead the attitude is basically if I leave it alone and don’t touch them and don’t get involved then it’s not my problem kind of thing.”

(Chris) 

The reaction of Danny’s friends to his acquired impairment clearly demonstrates the effect that a lack of understanding and a fear of the difference of anyone who does not conform to societal norms of able-bodiedness can have. Danny is still fully ambulatory with all his visual and intellectual faculties intact. He simply has one arm less than the majority of people.

It might be assumed that negative perceptions with regard to disability are only relevant to non-disabled individuals when dealing with or discussing people with disabilities. However, the power and reach of the perceptions of disability embedded in the medical model discourse are such that they can inform people with disabilities’ discourses regarding people with different or more severe impairments in much the same way as they do for the non-disabled community. The following quote from Ina (in Brittain, 2002; p.147) comes from a discussion regarding the type and severity of disability and people’s perceptions:

            “I think it gives a bad impression when you see these people that, like the ones doing boccia. I think that’s just such an embarrassment and you know when we went out there and came back then people were saying oh we’re not on the same plane as the boccia lot……..it’s people like that that give the rest of us a bad name and impression and they seem to class us all together and they only see the really bad ones generally.”

(Ina)

It appears then that Ina is displaying a discriminatory or disablist viewpoint of a group of people more severely disabled than herself. Arguably there is a tendency within society to label all people with disabilities as ‘disabled’ and attribute the same ‘meaning’ (usually that of the person with greatest level of impairment) to people with all types of impairment. This then could be why Ina fears being associated with this group. However, in reality the quote from Ina clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of what it means to have cerebral palsy and also a discriminatory attitude towards their right to be taking part in their chosen sporting activity and being part of the same team as Ina and the others she refers to. This kind of occurrence has also been reported by Hunt (1966 cited in Sherrill, 1986; p. 23-24) who stated that ‘people with less stigmatized disabilities are often quite prejudiced against individuals who are more stigmatized.’ This then plays a part in reinforcing and recreating negative perceptions of disability and their continued use within society.

Most of the forms of violence arise out of the application of the medical model of disability. The social model of disability can help us understand the manner in which sport can help change perceptions within non-disabled society regarding people with disabilities and, thus, negate or at least lessen some of the ‘violence’ directed consciously or sub-consciously against people with disabilities, which will be the subject of my next post.

Brinn, D., 2004, Israeli athletes strike gold at World Paralympic Games, (http://www.israel21c.org/culture/israeli-athletes-strike-gold-at-world-paralympic-games) accessed 13-04-10.

Brittain, I., 2002, Elite Athletes with Disabilities: Problems and Possibilities. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, UK.

Crawford, J, 2005, Constraints of Elite Athletes with Disabilities in Kenya, Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Gal, J. & Bar, M., 2000, The Needed and the Needy: The Policy Legacies of Benefits for Disabled War Veterans in Israel, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 29(4), p. 577-598.

Galtung, J., 1990, Cultural Violence in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27(3), p. 291-302.

Hogan, A., 1999, Carving out a space to act: acquired impairment and contested identity, in Corker, M, & French, S.(Eds.), 1999, Disability Discourse, Open University Press, Buckingham, UK, p. 79-91.

Hunt, P. (Ed.), 1966, Stigma: the experience of disability, Chapman, London.

Sherrill, C., 1986, Social and Psychological Dimensions of Sports for Disabled Athletes, in Sherrill, C. (Ed.), 1986, Sport and Disabled Athletes, Champaign, Il., Human Kinetics, p. 21-33.

World Health Organisation website, 2010, Definition and typology of violence(http://www.who.int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/index.html) accessed 29-3-10.

Madrid 1992 – the Paralympic Games that time forgot!

The International Association of Sports for Persons with a Mental Handicap, which later became the International Association of Sports for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID), were accepted into membership of the International Co-ordinating Committee (ICC) (fore-runners to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)) at their 10th meeting held in Gothenburg in 1986. Although events for athletes with an intellectual disability were added to the programme for the Winter Paralympic Games in Tignes the same year it was decided that a separate summer Games, sanctioned by ICC, would be held in Madrid immediately after the Games in Barcelona as part of their gradual inclusion into the overall Paralympic framework. It is clear from the literature available regarding the Paralympic Games that the Games in Madrid are rarely, if ever, recognised as a Paralympic Games. Even the International Paralympic Committee website makes no mention of these Games. However, the contract dated 6th October 1990 between ICC and IPC regarding control of all the Games that occurred in 1992 specifically refers to the Paralympic Games in Tignes, Barcelona AND Madrid. The issue of the inclusion of athletes from INAS-FMH in the Barcelona Paralympic Games was discussed at the ICC meeting held in Copenhagen from 27-29 March 1989. Following discussion in which representatives of ISMGF stated that admission to a Paralympic competition would be detrimental to the sports movement for the disabled a vote was held in which CISS, CP-ISRA, INAS-FMH and ISOD voted in favour of the participation of intellectually disabled athletes in Barcelona, but ISMGF voted against and IBSA abstained. As the vote had to unanimous the matter was tabled for the next meeting. That meeting was held in Aylesbury, England on 30-31 July 1989. In between these two meetings ISMGF, ISOD and IBSA had either held General Assemblies or Executive Board meetings at which it had been decided not to support the full inclusion of intellectually disabled athletes in Barcelona, although IBSA would accept demonstration events. The vote ended 3 in favour of their inclusion and 3 against and so the motion was lost. A second vote for the inclusion of demonstration events ended with 3 in favour, 1 against and two abstentions, but as the vote needed to be unanimous the motion was once again lost. Before the next ICC meeting in Barcelona from 27-28 January 1990 Mr Vicente, President of INAS-FMH made a request for ICC to sanction a Games under the Paralympic flag at a different venue and time to the Games in Barcelona. Mr Vicente stated that they were to be held in Madrid. After some discussion and with the blessing of the Barcelona Organising Committee a vote was held and the motion was carried unanimously. Some details of those Games are as follows:

Confirmed Participating Nations               75

Confirmed Participating Athletes             ~1600*

Number of Events                                           68

Opening Ceremony                                         Tuesday 15th September (5.00pm)

                                                                                Palacio de los Deportes de Madrid

Closing Ceremony                                          Tuesday 22nd September (5.00pm)

                                                                               Palacio de los Deportes de Madrid

Officially Opened by                                    Queen Sofia of Spain

Main Stadium                                                 Palacio de Deportes (For Opening and

                                                                              Closing Ceremonies)

Flame Lit by                                                    Coral Bistuer (Olympic Taekwondo 

                                                                             Champion)

Athlete’s Oath                                                All athletes together in unison

Mascot                                                             Andy

Official’s Oath                                                None Known

*This number is an approximation based upon available information as no complete set of results or entry lists is currently available

Participating Nations (75): Algeria, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brasil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Commonwealth of Independent States (Unified Team), Colombia, Croatia, Curacao, Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

(Countries in bold are those appearing at a summer Paralympic Games for the first time)

Sports (5): Athletics, Basketball, Indoor Football, Swimming, Table Tennis.

Impairment Groups (1): Intellectually Disabled.

Sporting Venues Used:

Ciudad de los Poetas:                                                             Basketball

Consejo Superior de Deportes:                                          Football, Table Tennis

La Emerita Sports Complex, University of Madrid: Football

Piscina Mundial ‘86:                                                                Swimming

Palacio de los Deportes:                                                        Basketball Final

Polideportivo Dehesa de la Villa:                                      Basketball

Pistas INEF, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid:     Athletics

The Outstanding Performers in Madrid

The Australian men’s swimming team was totally dominant in the pool, with Joseph Walker being the undoubted star winning nine gold medals (five individual, 4 relay) from nine events and setting two world records. However, this feat was equalled in the women’s swimming events where Sigrun Huld of Iceland also took five individual and four relay gold medals.

The Final Medal Table

   

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

1

Australia

13

10

9

32

2

Romania

10

6

7

23

3

Iceland

10

6

6

22

4

Sweden

9

11

10

30

5

Uruguay

5

4

5

14

6

Spain

5

1

7

13

7

China

5

1

0

6

8

C.I.S.

3

1

1

5

9

Dominican Republic

2

6

1

9

10

Great Britain

2

4

5

11

11

Kenya

2

1

2

5

12

Argentina

1

3

2

6

13

Brasil

1

3

1

5

14

Canada

1

2

3

6

15

Chile

1

0

0

1

16

Portugal

0

3

2

5

17

Poland

0

1

1

2

18=

Tunisia

0

1

0

1

 

South Korea

0

1

0

1

 

Greece

0

1

0

1

21=

Finland

0

0

1

1

 

Japan

0

0

1

1

 

Ecuador

0

0

1

1

 

Netherlands

0

0

1

1

 

Puerto Rico

0

0

1

1

 

France

0

0

1

1

   

70

66

68

204

The first three athletes with an intellectual disability to win medals in the history of the Paralympic Games were Joseph Walker (AUS) (Gold), Damian Huber (ARG) (Silver) and Joshua Hoffer (AUS) (Bronze) in the men’s 200m freestyle swimming. The medals were presented by Jerry Wolsh and Wim Zonneveld, honorary members of INAS-FMH

Athletes with High Support Needs at the Paralympic Games (Part 2): The Squeeze on Athlete Numbers.

Athletes with High Support Needs by definition require greater support in order to participate in their chosen sport. This means that they face far more barriers to getting involved in and reaching the elite level in their chosen sport, than their more functionally able counterparts. Add to this that there are probably less of them worldwide to start with and it is unsurprising that the number of AHSN making it to the elite level in sport is relatively small compared to the number of athletes with a disability as a whole. Therefore, when events such as those that happened in Barcelona occur it is usually the events for AHSN that are hardest hit by deletions or being combined with more functionally able athletes thereby negating any possible chance they might have had of a medal. This in turn negatively impacts on the motivation of these athletes to continue to train and compete, which can lead to even fewer AHSN being available to compete (Wilhite, 2002). Several events have occurred over the last couple of decades in order to try and counteract the perceived decreasing opportunities for AHSN to take part in the Paralympic Games. These include the setting up of a standing committee within IPC in 2004 to specifically look out for the welfare and needs of AHSN within the Paralympic family. In addition sports for specific groups of AHSN such as Boccia (CP athletes) and Wheelchair Rugby (tetraplegic athletes) were added to the Paralympic programme in order to provide opportunities for these athletes. However, even with sports such as wheelchair rugby, which is specifically for AHSN, some authors are concerned that the most severely disabled are being overlooked in the pursuit of ‘sporting excellence’ and success. Players in wheelchair rugby are given a points score (0.5 – most disabled to 3.5 – least disabled) with each team only allowed to have four players totalling no more than eight points on court at any one time. Schreiner and Strohkendl (2006) claim that wheelchair rugby is dominated on court by high point players (3 – 3.5 points) due to the fact that the eight point team limit favours their inclusion and that this has lead to the continuous decline of low point players within the sport in recent years. This clearly demonstrates the tension within the Paralympic movement of trying to move towards an elite sporting model that matches societal perceptions and understandings of what sport should look like, and providing sporting opportunities at the elite level for all their constituent members.

One more issue for AHSN in this area raised by Lepore et al (2007) is the perception by some AHSN that they do not really feel welcome by the more functionally able athletes at the Paralympic Games. Lepore et al (2007; p.271) state that ‘Athletes with more severe disabilities feel that the more elite athletes with disabilities are embarrassed to compete at the same Games as them’. This is a perception that seems at least partially borne out by the quotation by Ina quoted in Brittain (2004; p.443) where she claims to be embarrassed to have had to travel on the same aeroplane as the Boccia players. This not only highlights that disabled people are just as capable of being disablist as anyone else, but also is another possible reason why so few AHSN feel motivated enough to try and make it to the elite level in sport. However, it should also be pointed out that the very wording of the quotation above by Lepore et al (2007) smacks of the very same disablist undertones in that it describes the athletes that supposedly are embarrassed to compete alongside AHSN as ‘more elite’ rather than more functionally able. This, therefore, clearly aligns elitism with relative functional ability i.e. the more functionally able a person is (stronger, higher, faster) the more ‘elite’ they are considered.

Athletes with High Support Needs in Beijing, 2008.

Table 1 (below) shows the distribution of AHSN by continental association as well as splitting the totals into physical disabilities and blind athletes who require a guide. This highlights one final issue with regard to opportunities for AHSN to participate in the Paralympic Games, that of the ability of their relevant NPC to afford to provide the necessary extra support (guide, carer etc) necessary for an individual AHSN. Given the choice between taking an extra athlete or paying for a guide or a carer to accompany an AHSN NPCs on tight budgets are more likely to take another more functionally able athlete in order to increase their chances of gaining medals – on which most NPCs future funding is based. This is, of course, also partly dependent upon the how many places the Delegation Quota System (DQS) employed by IPC allows a particular country to take to a particular Games. The DQS does allow for NPCs to take additional staff to a Games to meet the additional needs of AHSN, but this is also dependent upon the NPC being able to afford the additional staff necessary. It is clear from Table 1 that the majority of AHSN at the Beijing Paralympic Games came from the more economically developed western nations.

Table 1.  Distribution of Athletes with High Support Needs by Continental Association at theBeijingParalympic Games.

 

All AHSN

 

NPCs

M

W

T

Africa

6

15

4

19

Asia

15

125

39

164

Americas

14

104

34

138

Europe

34

250

81

331

Oceania

2

32

13

45

Total

71

526

171

697

 

Physical Disabilities

 

NPCs

M

W

T

Africa

3

7

4

11

Asia

10

69

22

91

Americas

12

63

24

87

Europe

30

163

56

219

Oceania

2

27

10

37

Total

57

329

116

445

 

Blind

 

NPCs

M

W

T

Africa

4

8

0

8

Asia

12

56

17

73

Americas

7

41

10

51

Europe

26

87

25

112

Oceania

2

5

3

8

Total

51

197

55

252

In total AHSN made up 17.6% of all athletes who participated in Beijing. However, only one quarter of the AHSN were female, again highlighting the impact of potential multiple discrimination i.e. being a woman and having a disability and having a disability that requires a high level of support. Unfortunately there is no other accurate data available to allow for a comparison of participation at previous Paralympic Games, but estimates by IPC cite figures of 24.3% for Sydney and 23.5% for Athens (IPC, 2008), which if anywhere near correct display a worrying downward trend in the participation of AHSN at Summer Paralympic Games. The estimates for Winter Games cite figures of 10.6% for Salt Lake and 7.6% for Torino (IPC, 2008), again displaying the same downward trend and possibly the even greater problems and issues involved for an AHSN to become involved in Winter sports.

Brittain, I., 2004, Perceptions of Disability and Their Impact Upon Involvement in Sport for People with Disabilities at All Levels in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 28(4), p. 429-452.

IPC, 2008; Personal Communication. Excerpt from AHSN handbook emailed 2 December 2008 (unpaginated).

Lepore, M., Gayle, G.W. and Stevens, S., 2007, Adapted Aquatics Programming: A Professional Guide, London, Human Kinetics.

Schreiner, P. and Strohkendl, H., 2006, The Disappearance of Athletes with Severe Disabilities in Wheelchair Rugby, Paper presented at the Vista 2006 Conference entitled ‘Classification: Solutions for the Future’ held in Bonn, Germany, 6–7 May, 2006.

Wilhite, B., 2002, Sport for Athletes with Severe Disabilities – Identifying Key Issues

Affecting the Future of Disability and Sport in Brittain, 2010, The Paralympic Games Explained, Routledge, London

Athletes with High Support Needs at the Paralympic Games (Part 1)

Originally called athletes with severe disabilities, the term ‘severe disability’ led to concerns that it was laden with overly negative connotations that might prove detrimental to those involved. The new terminology of athletes with high support needs (AHSN) was, therefore, introduced in order to emphasise the support needs that all athletes require to make it to the very top in their sport (coaching, financial etc), whilst recognising that some athletes with disabilities have more intensive and possibly more specialised support needs than others. Such support might include a sighted guide for a blind athlete, both for in and out of competition assistance at a Paralympic Games where the built environment will be unfamiliar to the athlete and they may also need a guide to compete in events such as track events. There are two broad categories of AHSN – those with more severe physical disabilities and those who are blind or visually impaired to such an extent that they need a guide to assist them, not only for their sport, but for their everyday living needs. Although the many developments in classification over the years, combined with incomplete record keeping in the early years of the Paralympic Games, has meant that it is very difficult to accurately trace the participation of AHSN in the Games it is known that the first events for tetraplegic athletes were added to the programme inTokyo, 1964. AHSN with other physical disabilities and blind and visually impaired AHSN did not take part in the Summer Paralympic Games untilToronto, 1976. Some authors claim that there were demonstration events for blind athletes in Heidelberg, 1972, but no records of these can be found and the Director of Sports for these Games, Joerg Schmeckl, has no recollection of them (Schmeckl, 2008, personal communication).

The Squeeze on Athlete Numbers at the Paralympic Games

Following the introduction of athletes with amputations and visual impairments the total number of medals awarded inTorontorose from 575 inHeidelberg, 1972 to 1172 inToronto. With the addition of athletes with cerebral palsy inArnhemfour years later the total number awarded rose to 1601. The split site Games of 1984 in Stoke Mandeville,UKandLong Island,New York, as well as the addition of Les Autres athletes to the Games inNew York, effectively allowed for more athletes and more events at each venue and the total number of medals awarded at both venues combined hit an all-time high of 2767. InSeoul, 1988 with the Games finally returning to the Olympic host city and re-combining into one event the number of medals awarded dropped back to 2208. This return to the Olympic host city, which has continued ever since combined with a number of other issues and events appears to have had quite a major impact on the participation of AHSN in the years to come. These issues and events include:

  • Having the Games at the same host city venues as the Olympic Games very shortly after the Olympic Games allowed for direct comparison. For example, due to the classification system used inSeoulthere were twenty-one male and fourteen female 100m finals in athletics compared to one for each gender at the Olympic Games. In addition many of the events were straight finals with no heats necessary due to the limited number of athletes within a particular classification grouping. This lead to the perception amongst some that athletes only had to turn up at the Games to win a medal, which was totally at odds with the elite sporting model the movement had already begun moving towards.
  • In January 1987, at an ICC meeting inSeoul, the Seoul Paralympic Co-ordinating Committee (SPOC) had tried to get the number of athletes and Officials, previously agreed at 4000, cut to a total of 3000, citing financial and facility issues as the reason. Although this cut didn’t actually occur in the end it is clear from the minutes of the meeting that a formula had been devised to cut the number of athletes if necessary. The additional financial burden on Olympic host cities of also hosting the Paralympic Games would continue to be a source of pressure on the number of athletes allowed to participate in subsequent Games.
  • As part of the ongoing move towards an elite sport model minimum entry standards for Paralympic Games had already been in use since at leastArnhem, 1980. 

The combination of these three issues came to a real head for the first time inBarcelona, 1992. In an attempt to reduce the number of medals awarded and overcome the perception that an individual only had to turn up to win a medal a functional classification system was introduced in six sports for CP-ISRA, ISOD and ISMWSF athletes. According to Sherrill (1993) the balance of power between these three organisations and the way qualifying standards were worked out prevented many countries from taking CP athletes toBarcelona. This, in turn, impacted on other events due to the rule that an event had to contain athletes from at least three countries and two continents to be considered viable. This resulted in events either being integrated with others or deleted from the programme completely. The total number of medals awarded inBarcelonafell by over 500 from the previous Games to 1503. By Beijing 2008 this number had dropped to 1431. In part two of this post I will look at the impact this squeeze on athlete numbers and medals has had on athletes with high support needs.

Schmeckl, 2008; Personal Communication. Email from Jörg Schmeckl, 21 September 2008

Sherrill, C., 1993, Women with Disability, Paralympics and Reasoned Action Contact Theory, Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, Vol. 2(2), pp. 51–60.

 

The very first men’s and woman’s Paralympic gold medallists were both Italian

Possibly aided by pouring rain on the very first day of competition that led to all outdoor programmed sports such as archery being cancelled for the day the honour and place in history of being the first ever men’s and women’s Paralympic gold medallists went to two Italians. Due to the rain only indoor or covered sports such snooker, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair fencing actually went ahead on the first day of competition (Monday September 19th 1960) and for the first two sports it was only the early rounds of competition. It was left, therefore, to the winners of the individual sabre for men and the individual foil for women to take this place in history. Sixteen men from Australia (3), Belgium (2), France (2) Great Britain (2) and Italy (7) and eight women from Belgium (1), Great Britain (3) and Italy (4) took part in these two competitions with Italy actually taking the first four places in both competitions. To cap it all the Italians also went on to take all three medals in the only other wheelchair fencing event – the team sabre, with a team consisting of two fencers. However, the two individuals who took their place in history as the first ever Paralympic Games gold medallists were Aurelio Tedone for the Men and Anna Maria Toso for the women.

Aurelio Tedone

Rome 1960 – Wheelchair Fencing (Individual and Team Sabre) 2 gold medals

Anna Maria Toso

Rome 1960 – Athletics, Swimming, Table Tennis and Wheelchair Fencing

Tokyo 1964 – Athletics, Swimming, Table Tennis and Wheelchair Fencing

Sport

Rome

Tokyo

Athletics 3 silver, 1 bronze 2 gold, 2 silver
Swimming 2 gold, 1 silver 1 gold, 2 silver
Table Tennis 1 silver, 1 bronze 1 silver
Wheelchair Fencing 1 gold 2 gold
Games total 3 gold, 5 silver, 2 bronze 5 gold, 5 silver
Overall total

8 gold, 10 silver, 2 bronze (20 medals)

 

An Analysis of Women’s Participation Rates at the Paralympic Games

Drawing upon data from the last six summer Paralympic Games (1988 – 2008) it would appear that women’s participation at the summer Paralympic Games is increasing worldwide having risen from 22.1% of all athletes in Seoul (710 women, 2503 men) to 34.6% in Beijing (1367 women, 2584 men).  The top section of Table 1 (below) shows the top five sports that women competed in at the Beijing Paralympic Games when compared to male participation in the same sport. Of the twenty sports competed in inBeijingwomen only outnumbered men in one – equestrianism. Of the remaining four sports in the top five, two of them are team sports. This may, therefore, not be a true reflection of women’s participation in these sports relative to men as the number of teams and the number of players per team is fixed by the organisers. The other two sports in the top five are rowing and swimming. Swimming is often used as a rehabilitative tool for people with disabilities and doesn’t require much in the way of specialist equipment, which might explain why the number of women relative to men is so much higher than for other individual sports. Rowing, which was making its debut at the Paralympic Games inBeijing, had a limited number of events and competitors and as such this may have led to an artificial reflection of the number of women with disabilities taking part in rowing. All of the five sports with the lowest percentage of women relative to men, with the exception of sailing, are individual sports and/ or require both specialist equipment and training, which are often monopolised by male athletes.

Table 1. Top and bottom five sports for female participation inBeijingby gender and sport and as a percentage of all women participating at the Games

Percentage of women by gender and sport

Highest

Lowest

Sport

%

Sport

%

Equestrianism

68.5

WheelchairRugby

3.4

Rowing

48.1

Sailing

16.3

Sitting Volleyball

47.0

Cycling

25.9

Wheelchair Basketball

45.5

Wheelchair Fencing

28.6

Swimming

40.0

Boccia

29.5

.

Percentage of all participating women by sport
            Highest          Lowest
Sport % Sport %
Athletics 24.3 Wheelchair

Rugby

0.2
Swimming 16.4 Sailing 1.0
Wheelchair

Basketball

8.8 Wheelchair

Fencing

1.8
Table Tennis 7.0 Boccia 1.9
Sitting Volleyball  6.2 Wheelchair

Tennis

2.6

The bottom section of table 1 shows the top five sports that women competed in relative to the total number of female participants at the Beijing Paralympic Games. This clearly shows that athletics and swimming are by far the two most popular sports for women. However, this is not particularly surprising as they are also the two biggest sports for men and women at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The high percentage of women participating in these two sports at the Paralympics is likely a reflection of the popularity, availability and accessibility of these two sports world-wide. Of the five sports with the lowest percentage of women taking part relative to other sports four of them are highly technical sports necessitating expensive equipment and coaching, which put them beyond the reach of many disabled athletes means. This is especially true for women, who suffer from multiple barriers of various kinds when trying to access sporting opportunities. The fifth sport, boccia, is for athletes with severe disabilities, now called athletes with high support needs. When combining a severe disability with all of the issues outlined in my last post on women with disabilities in sport it is hardly surprising that so few women with high support needs compete at the Paralympic Games.

National Teams without women

Overall, the number of countries entering no female athletes at the Paralympic Games appears to be on the decline. Table 2 (below) shows the percentage of National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) from each continental association, relative to the total number of NPCs, that had no female participants at the last six Paralympic Games. Up to the Athens 2004 Games, with the exception ofAsia, the general trend clearly demonstrated a decrease in countries entering no women at the Paralympic Games from four of the continents. However, inBeijingtwo noteworthy changes occurred in these figures. Firstly, the percentage of African nations bringing no women to the Games rose sharply. This coincides with the participation of a number of African nations in the Paralympic Games for the first time, possibly as a result of the development work IPC and other agencies have been doing on in Africa. Many of these nations only brought very small teams and possibly due to a combination of factors such as economics, lack of development of female sporting opportunities etc, chose to bring male athletes. The other change of note is the apparent decrease in Asian NPCs not taking women toBeijing. In reality the number of NPCs from Asia not taking women to Beijing remained the same as in Athens, but the large increase in NPCs from Africa and a slight increase in the Oceania and Americas regions not taking women to Beijing meant the figure for Asia dropped in overall terms.

Table 2. Percentage of NPCs by continental affiliation with no female participants in relation to the total number of teams with no female participants over the last twenty years.

 

Seoul

Barcelona

Atlanta

Europe (EOC)

26.7

19.4

19.1

Americas (PASO)

20

22.6

19.1

Africa (ANOCA)

20

29

25.5

Asia (OCA)

33.3

29

38.3

Oceania (ONOC)

0

0

2.0

 

 

Sydney

Athens

Beijing

 
Europe(EOC)

Americas (PASO)

Africa (ANOCA)

Asia (OCA)

Oceania (ONOC)

15.8

16.1

10.4

 

15.8

16.1

18.8

 

18.4

19.4

31.3

 

42.1

48.4

31.3

 

7.9

0

8.3

 
             

In line with Sherrill’s (1997) findings regarding the Atlanta Parampic Games the vast majority of all countries not sending female participants to Beijing had team sizes of less than nine and the lack of female participants in these teams probably reflect economic limitations, possibly with an underlying bias towards male sport and a lack of opportunities for women. When comparing the same countries participation at the Beijing Olympic Games it is found that all countries in continents other than Asia and thirteen of the fifteen countries inAsiawho had no female participants at the Paralympics did have female participants at the Olympic Games. Their lack of female participation at the Paralympics may be due to a lack of development of disability sport within these countries, possibly exacerbated by cultural issues around disability and gender. Of the remaining two Asian countriesSaudi ArabiaandQatar(both strongly Muslim states) had no women at the Olympic or Paralympic Games despite fielding a total of 34 men at the Olympics and 5 at the Paralympics. This appears to highlight another barrier to female participation in sport – that of religious and cultural issues. However, it should be pointed out that in Athens there were five countries from Asia in this situation who fielded a total of 37 men at the Athens Olympics and 20 at the Athens Paralympics, so it would appear that things are possibly changing for the better. In fact one country, Kuwait, who fielded 8 men and zero women at the Beijing Olympic Games actually included one woman in their team of eight at the Beijing Paralympic Games.

Although participation rates for both female Olympic and Paralympic participants are steadily increasing relative to their male counterparts there are many issues relating to opportunity, prejudice and body image that are still preventing disabled females from getting involved in sport and reaching the highest levels. These barriers may also be exacerbated by political, cultural and religious issues relating to women’s role expectations within a specific society. It would appear from the data that the participation of women at the Summer Paralympic Games is on the increase with more countries entering female athletes. There are still many differences, however, between continents and even between sports and there is still a long way to go before anything like equity is reached.

Sherrill, C., 1997, Paralympic Games 1996: Feminist and Other Concerns: What’s Your Excuse? Palaestra, Winter; p. 32 – 38.

For all those who keep putting ‘Margaret Gibbs’ into your search engine!

Quite a number of times now my WordPress stats have reported that the term ‘Margaret Gibbs’ has been used as a term that has referred them to my blog – because her name appears in a post about Caz Walton. Anyway as it has now happened on more than a few occasions I decided to include a post giving details of what I know about her. Margaret competed for Great Britain at a Paralympic Games on three occasions:

Tokyo 1964 in Athletics and Swimming

Tel Aviv 1968 in Athletics, Swimming and Wheelchair Basketball

Heidelberg, 1972 in Archery

She won a total of 2 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals in Archery, Pentathlon and Swimming. Her results include the following, although it is likely she took part in many more events in Tokyo in 1964. However, current available results from Tokyo only list the first five competitors in each event:

1964 Athletics Women’s Discus D 4th
1964 Swimming Women’s 50 m Breaststroke cauda equina Bronze
1968 Athletics Women’s 60 m Wheelchair C 4th
1968 Athletics Women’s Club Throw D 10th
1968 Athletics Women’s Discus D 4th
1968 Athletics Women’s Javelin D 10th
1968 Athletics Women’s Shot Put D 10th
1968 Athletics Women’s Slalom C 7th
1968 Pentathlon Women’s Pentathlon incomplete Gold^
1968 Swimming Women’s 100 m Freestyle open Bronze
1968 Swimming Women’s 3×25 m Individual Medley open Gold
1968 Swimming Women’s 3x50m Medley Relay Open Bronze*
1972 Archery Women’s FITA Round open Silver

^ Please see my previous post on Caz Walton as to why this really should have been a silver medal. At that time Pentathlon was made up of archery, athletics and swimming events.

* It should be noted that the names of the members of this team were not recorded anywhere and none of the athletes contacted have been able to confirm the correct make up of the team. The line up reported here is taken from the team that won the British trials for this event at Stoke Mandeville by a considerable margin earlier in the year.