Monthly Archives: July 2012

When was a flame ceremony first connected with the Stoke Mandeville/ Paralympic Games?

Having been researching the history of the Stoke Mandeville and Paralympic Games for over ten years I spent many years believing that the the very first time a flame ceremony occurred in connection with the Stoke Mandeville or Paralympic Games was in Toronto in 1976 when the flame was lit by three different Canadian participants representing the three impairment groups participating in the Games. They were Joanne McDonald (Wheelchair athlete and table tennis player), Dave Wall (Blind athlete and swimmer) and Hans Noe (Amputee swimmer).

However, on a research trip to Perth in Australia a few years ago one of the former Australian Paralympians I met who had competed in the 1950s and 1960s showed me the photo below, showing part of the 1957 Stoke Mandeville Games Opening Ceremony. I believe that the gentleman apparently lighting the cauldron may be Sir Arthur Porritt who also took the salute at the wheelpast of nations in 1957. This ceremony may have been prompted by the award of the Fearnley Cup to the Stoke Mandeville Games, which had been handed to Dr Guttmann by Sir Arthur in a ceremony in London in  January of that year. Dr Guttmann, who had been promoting a link between the Olympic movement and the Stoke Mandeville Games almost from the start may, therefore, have decided to increase the links between the Games, having already introduced a parade of nations in 1954. It is strange, however, that this part of the ceremony appears to go unmentioned in newspaper reports and those in The Cord, which was the quarterly newsletter produced at Stoke Mandeville and sent to Paraplegics worldwide. However, at present this is all just conjecture and I will continue to investigate historical mysteries such as these until I, or someone else solves them!

Stoke Mandeville Games Flame Ceremony 1957

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The Stoke Mandeville Games: An Inauspicious Beginning to a Worldwide Phenomenon.

For an event that would later go on to become the largest ever sporting event for people with disabilities and the second largest sporting event on the planet after the Olympic Games the event now known globally as the Paralympic Games had a rather inauspicious beginning. It began life as an archery demonstration between two teams of Paraplegics from the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Stoke Mandeville and the Star and Garter Home for Injured War Veterans at Richmond in Surrey. It was held in conjunction with the presentation of a specially adapted bus to the patients of Stoke Mandeville by the British Legion and London Transport. Perhaps more auspicious was the date chosen for the handover of the bus and the archery demonstration; Thursday, 29th July 1948, the exact same day as the opening ceremony for the Games of the Fourteenth Olympiad at Wembley in London less than thirty five miles away. It is difficult to assess whether this initial link to the Olympic Games was a deliberate one, or just coincidence, but it was a link that Guttmann himself would very overtly cultivate over the following years and decades. Guttmann later stated that the event was an experiment as a public performance, but also a demonstration to society that sport was not just the domain of the non-disabled (Guttmann, 1952). The aim of the bus was not only to allow patients to travel around the country to various activities and events, but also to allow them to get back out into the community and enter more into the life of the town. The bus would also be used to take competitors too many more archery competitions over the coming years against teams of both disabled and non-disabled archers.

Dr Guttmann’s ‘Grand Festival of Paraplegic Sport’, as the second incarnation of the Games were described, were held on Wednesday, 27th July 1949. Building upon much hard work done by Dr Guttmann, his staff and the impact of various Stoke Mandeville patients moving to other spinal units around the country and taking their new found enthusiasm for sport with them the number of spinal units entered rose to six (The Cord, 1949). A grand total of thirty seven individuals took part in these Games and with the exception of the archers from the PolishHospital at Penley every competitor had, at some time, been a patient of Dr Guttmann.  In addition to a repeat of the previous year’s archery competition, ‘net-ball’ was added to the programme for these Games. This was a kind of hybrid of netball and basketball played in wheelchairs and using netball posts for goals.

The next three years saw competitor numbers at the Games continue to grow as more and more spinal units from around the country began to enter teams. Guttmann, however, had far grander plans and continued with the hope that he could move the Games onto an international footing. One local paper claimed this had moved a step closer in 1951 with representation of competitors with a variety of nationalities including a Frenchman, an Australian, Poles and a Southern Rhodesian. With the exception of the Polish, who were residents of the Polish hospital at Penley, the others were all individual patients resident at British Spinal Units. The first step to Guttmann’s dream was to occur the very next year, 1952, when a team of four paraplegics from the Military Rehabilitation Centre, Aardenburg, near Doorn in the Netherlands became the first truly international competitors at the Games. Over the next four years the international nature of the Games rose dramatically so that in 1956 there were eighteen nations represented at the Games and a total of twenty-one different nations had competed since 1952 (Scruton, 1956).

Table 1 A Chronology of the Early Stoke Mandeville Games (1948 – 1959)

Date Teams Competitors

Sports

New Sport
Thurs 29th July, 1948

2*

16

1

Archery
Weds 29th July, 1949

6*

37

2

‘Netball’
Weds 27th July, 1950

10*

61

3

Javelin
Sat 28th July, 1951

11*

126

4

Snooker
Sat 26th July, 1952

2

130

5

Table Tennis
Sat 8th August, 1953

6

200

6

Swimming
Sat 31st July, 1954

14

250

7

Dartchery
Fri 29th – Sat 30th July, 1955

18

280

8

Fencing

Basketball replaced Netball

Fri 27th – Sat 28th July, 1956

18

300

8

Fri 26th – Sat 27th July, 1957

24

360

9

Shot Putt
Thurs 24th – Sat 26th July, 1958

21

350

10

Throwing the Club
Thurs 23rd – Sat 25th July, 1959

20

360

11

Pentathlon

(Archery, Athletics & Swimming Events)

* Number of Spinal Units Participating

Spreading the Word

It might appear hard to understand how an event that started life with just sixteen wheelchair archers in 1948 as a demonstration to the public that competitive sport is not the prerogative of the non-disabled could, just ten years later, find itself with several dozen international teams in attendance. In fact the Games grew to such an extent that despite several extensions to the accommodation it became necessary to introduce a national Stoke Mandeville Games from 1958 onwards from which a British team would be selected to take part in the international Games a month or so later (Scruton, 1957). There appear to be five possible mechanisms that played key roles in spreading the word regarding the Stoke Mandeville Games to various corners of the globe:

1. In the early years much of the driving force for the growth appears to have been down to former patients of Dr Guttmann’s who were transferred to other spinal units and took what they had learned, and their enthusiasm for it, with them. Many of them returned year after year to take part in the Games. To a slightly lesser extent this is also true of the doctors and surgeons from all over the world who visited Stoke Mandeville to train under Dr Guttmann and then returned home and incorporated sport into their treatment programmes, such as Dr Ralph Spira from Israel.

2. In 1947 the very first edition of ‘The Cord’ was published. This contained articles and advice of benefit to paraplegics everywhere and often gave space to reports on the sporting goings on at the hospital. Because practical information of assistance to paraplegics was in short supply copies of this journal often got sent abroad to individuals and organisations carrying news of the Games and Dr Guttmann’s rehabilitation methods far and wide. The journal continued to be published all the way up until 1983.

3. Dr Guttmann himself was a major player in spreading the word about the Games. He would often travel abroad to conferences, to give lectures and even to give evidence in court cases and would take every opportunity to tell people about the Games and his use of sport as a rehabilitative tool. He would often challenge particular key individuals in other countries to bring a team to the Games the following year as was the case with Sir George Bedbrooke at the RoyalPerthHospital on a visit in 1956. Australia sent their first team to Stoke Mandeville the following year (Lockwood & Lockwood, 2007).

4. Dr Guttmann also appears to have been very astute when it comes to politics and what it takes to get an event noticed. Right from the very first Games in 1948 he made sure that high ranking political and social figures and later sports stars and celebrities were present at the Games in order to attract profile and media attention.

5. The final mechanism used by Dr Guttmann to cement the importance of the Games in people’s minds, despite the luke-warm response it received when he first suggested it, was his constant comparisons to the Olympic Games. Its affect and design appears to have been two-fold. Firstly to give his patients something tangible to aim for and to give them a feeling of self-worth and, secondly, to catch the attention of the media and people and organisations involved with paraplegics worldwide.

(This blog post is an extract from Brittain, I., 2009, The Paralympic Games Explained, Routledge,UK)

For a more detailed description of the early Stoke Mandeville Games please see Brittain, I., 2012, From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A history of the summer Paralympic Games, Commonground; Champaign, Il.

Guttmann. L., 1952, On the Way to an International Sports Movement for the Paralysed, The Cord, Vol. 5 (3) (October): p. 7 – 23.

Lockwood, R. & Lockwood, A., 2007, ROLLING BACK THE YEARS: A history of wheelchair sports in Western Australia, Wheelchair Sports WA Inc; Perth, Australia.

Scruton, J., 1957, The 1957 International Stoke Mandeville Games, The Cord, Vol. 9(4): p. 7 – 28.

Scruton, J., 1956, International Stoke Mandeville Games, The Cord, Vol. 8(4): p.7-21.

The Cord, 1949, Stoke Mandeville Calling, 2(4): p.34-35.

Some Barriers to Involvement in Sport for People with Disabilities

The impact of the perceptions of people with disabilities on their lives in general and on their participation in sport in particular can be split into three broad areas – psychological, material and financial (Brittain, 2002). What follows is a brief introduction into some of the issues that can arise for people with disabilities in each of these areas. These factors are equally relevant for elite and grass roots participation in sport for people with disabilities. However, by the very fact that some individuals have reached the elite level it is clear that some or all of these barriers can be sufficiently overcome or mitigated against to allow some individuals to progress to the highest levels.

Psychological Factors.

Negative societal perceptions of disability can have a devastating impact upon the self-confidence and self-image of people with disabilities. The idea, perpetuated through the perceptions of disability embedded in the medical model discourse, that people with disabilities are incapable of doing things for themselves clashes with the need of human beings to feel a sense of independence within their own lives. Therefore, those individuals with disabilities who do require help to perform certain tasks within their daily lives can be made to feel a burden by the actions (conscious or unconscious) of those they interact with. This, combined with the loss of any feeling of independency or control over their lives, can lead many of these individuals to feel that they have become a burden upon society and this feeling is probably compounded by the idea of people with disabilities as non-productive members of society as reported by Middleton (1999) and Priestley (1998). This perception of being a burden and feeling of guilt for being unable to do the same things as everyone else are what can cause many people with disabilities to stop asking for help altogether. That people with disabilities do perceive themselves to be a burden may have its origins in the fact that many societies, particularly western industrialised societies, are constructed on the Darwinian premise of ‘survival of the fittest’ (Barnes, 1991, p.19), where any request for help or assistance is perceived as a sign of weakness. Any requests for help, or ‘acts of charity’ as they may be perceived by some, can lead to a major lowering of self-esteem or even depression. Given the confidence and self-belief necessary to reach the very top in modern day elite sport this can have a major impact on how successful a prospective disabled athlete may become. However, the more disabled athletes within a country who reach the very top and become role models for potential disabled athletes of the future the greater the possibility for mitigating issues such as this.

Material Factors.

For those people with disabilities who are encouraged to take part in sport or who decide, despite the factors mentioned above, to take part of their own volition the problems that they may encounter along the way are potentially many and varied. The following are just a selection.

Transport: Barnes (1991; p. 186) cites a succession of studies (e.g. Barnes, 1990, GLAD, 1988), which indicate that a major factor in the opportunities for a person with a disability to take part in activities outside their own homes is access to a car belonging to their family or a friend. This dependency upon the goodwill and availability of family and friends for transportation or even on local specialised transport systems has several repercussions for people with disabilities. These include a decrease in independence such that any leisure activities often have to be arranged around those times when transport is available. If transport availability does not happen to coincide with the times when coaching is available, or when team mates train, then the chances of an individual, however keen or talented, achieving their optimal performance level will be severely restricted. Cavet (1998, p.98) claims that ‘there is substantial evidence that disabled young people have more limited opportunities for leisure activities outside their own homes than non-disabled people of the same age’. The GLAD report (1988, p. 3) claims that those people with disabilities who are dependent on specialised transport systems such as local authority provision ‘participated in the fewest leisure activities outside the home’. This may, therefore, kill off some elite careers in sport for people with disabilities before they have even begun.

Physical Accessibility: Even if problems of time and transport can be overcome, or are not an issue, further problems of accessibility can arise once an athlete with a disability has arrived at their destination. Much has been written about problems of accessibility for people with disabilities (e.g. French and Hainsworth, 2001) and many buildings were designed and built with a conception of non-disabled users in mind. Therefore, if people with disabilities have difficulty entering a facility it may put them off taking part in sport at all. Not only does it make access awkward, but it makes people with disabilities feel unwanted and unwelcome at the venue.

Time/ Pace: Just getting dressed or changing, can take a lot longer than for non-disabled individuals. Lack of time, the time of day and the time it takes to do things can all play a part in arranging a training regime for a sportsperson with a disability. Wendell (1996, p. 38) claims ‘pace is a major aspect of expectations of performance; non-disabled people often take pace so much for granted that they feel and express impatience with the slower pace at which some people with disabilities need to operate’.

Disability Specific Implications: One example of a disability specific implication is access to guide runners for blind athletes, for both racing and training. Finding and retaining a guide runner for a blind athlete who might be training eight or nine times a week, especially one committed enough and fast enough can be a mammoth and time consuming task in itself.

Adapted Equipment: The cost and availability of adapted equipment for use by athletes with a disability can have a major impact upon their participation. A single racing prosthetic for a below the knee amputee with fitting costs just under £5,000 (Dyer, 2007, personal communication) and a top of the range Invacare Top End Eliminator OSR Racing Chair costs just under $7,000 (Invacare website, 2007).

Competition at an Appropriate Level: The relatively low number of people with disabilities taking part in sport, especially competitive sport, can have an impact on opportunities for people with disabilities to get involved and progress within a particular sport. This is further compounded by the athletes having to be split up into functional classification groupings in order to try and ensure fair competition.

Access to Coaching: Just finding a coach willing to take on an athlete with a disability can be a task in itself. Finding one who has the knowledge, or the time and the inclination to gain an understanding, of the implications of a particular impairment on the coaching and training process can prove even harder.

Type of Schooling: Brittain (2004a) highlights the impact of schooling on the opportunities for children with disabilities to become involved in sport. In particular he highlights the impact of the move towards mainstreaming of children with disabilities and the implications this has both for children with disabilities and for teachers of physical education within mainstream institutions who are often unequipped to deal with them. This not only has an impact upon participation in sport for people with disabilities in general, but as Brittain (p. 90) highlights can also have a major impact upon elite level sport, particularly for those impairment groupings such as wheelchair users and visually impaired that are particularly difficult to fully integrate into a mainstream physical education class. In addition the dispersal of disabled children into mainstream schools has made new talent identification much harder than when they were all together in special schools.

Gender: Of the British Paralympic track and field team that participated in Sydney, 2000 female athletes with disabilities only made up 27.7% of the Paralympic track and field team, whereas non-disabled female athletes made up 40% of the Olympic track and field team in Sydney (Brittain, 2004a; p. 91). There is a large body of research already regarding the participation of non-disabled women in sport but relatively little has been written about the participation of women with disabilities within sport. However, it is likely that factors such as low self-confidence and self-esteem brought on partly by the body conscious nature of our society, especially with regard to women (See Hargreaves, 2000; p. 187), and transport problems (See Barnes, 1991; p.186) etc are likely to have a big effect on the decision of a woman with a disability to take up sport or not and then progress to the highest level.

Media Coverage: The media plays a crucial role in informing society about the very existence of sport for people with disabilities and in creating role models that can inspire future generations of disabled athletes. Although media coverage of elite sport for the disabled is improving it still has some way to go as pointed out by Brittain (2004b) when he compared the 500 hours of prime time Olympic coverage of the Sydney Games by the BBC with the less than one hour a day off peak coverage of the Sydney Paralympic Games on BBC2. Another important issue is the way the media cover sport for people with disabilities. The language they use, the framing of shots to hide obvious disability in newspapers and the portrayal of disabled athletes as valiant heroes rather than just athletes have all come under academic scrutiny (see Smith & Thomas (2005), Hardin & Hardin (2004), Schantz & Gilbert (2001))

Financial Constraints.

According to Southam (1994, p.13) only 31% of people with disabilities who were of working age were in employment in the mid eighties and in general these jobs tend to be poorly paid, low status positions. In addition to this Oliver (1996, p. 115) points out that 60% of people with disabilities in bothBritainand theUSAcurrently live below the poverty line. Oliver (1993) claims that work is central to industrial societies due to the fact that it not only produces the goods to support life, but also helps to create some of the social relationships necessary for a satisfactory life. French (1994) claims that it is generally presumed that people with disabilities will be unable to cope, may deter or upset clients and are more likely to have accidents. Oliver (1993) claims that people with disabilities are very likely to suffer exclusion from the work place due to perceived inabilities and, as a result, face a continued creation of dependency upon the state and those around them. All of these facts have an effect on the possibilities for people with disabilities to become involved in sport by restricting the financial means necessary to become involved in and sustain an interest in most sporting pastimes.

Conclusion.

In conclusion, the rise in the success and popularity of the Paralympic Games has provided inspiration and role models for people with disabilities to become involved in sport at all levels, as well as helping to change the perceptions of many amongst the non-disabled population regarding what people with disabilities are capable of. What is clear is that although disabled athletes go through basically the same developmental stages in their sporting careers as non-disabled athletes and experience much the same problems, there are a large number of additional barriers that can, at worst, prevent disabled athletes from getting involved in sport or prevent them from reaching their full potential. These barriers can be tangible ones such as accessibility, transport or financial issues or they can be perceptual or psychological barriers that can prevent access to vital services such as top level coaching or, from a policy perspective, can act to strengthen the tangible barriers mentioned above.

Barnes, C. (1991) Disabled People in Britain and Discrimination.London: Hurst & Co.

Barnes, C. (1990) Cabbage Syndrome: The Social Construction of Dependence,Basingstoke,UK: Falmer Press.

Brittain, I. (2004a) The Role of Schools in Constructing Self-perceptions of Sport and Physical Education in Relation to People with Disabilities, in Sport, Education and Society, Vol. 9(1), pp. 75-94.

Brittain, I.(2004b) Perceptions of Disability and Their Impact Upon Involvement in Sport for People With Disabilities at all Levels, in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 28(4), pp. 429-452.

Brittain, I. (2002) Elite Athletes with Disabilities: Problems and Possibilities, Unpublished doctoral thesis,BuckinghamshireChilternsUniversityCollege:High Wycombe,UK.

Dyer, B. (2007)BournemouthUniversity, School of Design, Engineering & Computing, Personal Communication, E-mail dated 19-11-07.

French, S. (Ed.) (1994) On equal terms: working with disabled people,Oxford: Butterworth-Heinnemann Ltd.

French, D. & Hainsworth, J. (2001) ‘There aren’t any buses and the swimming pool is always cold!’: obstacles and opportunities in the provision of sport for disabled people, in Managing Leisure, Vol. 6(1), pp. 35-49.

GLAD (1988) The Impact of Transport on the Quality of Life and Lifestyle of Young People with Physical Disabilities, Transport Paper No. 2,London: GreaterLondon Association for Disabled People.

Hardin, M.M. & Hardin, B. (2004) The ‘Supercrip’ in sport media: Wheelchair athletes discuss hegemony’s disabled hero, in Sociology of Sport Online, Vol. 7(1)

Hargreaves, J. (2000) Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity,London: Routledge.

Invacare website (http://www.handcycleracing.com) accessed 21-11-07.

Middleton, L., 1999, Disabled Children: Challenging Social Exclusion, Blackwell Science,Oxford.

Oliver, M. (1996) Understanding Disability: From Theory to Practice, London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

Oliver, M. (1993) Disability and dependency: a creation of industrial societies? In Swain, J., Finkelstein, V., French, S. and Oliver, M., (Eds.), Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments,Milton Keynes,UK: Open University,  pp. 49-60.

Priestley, M. (1998) Constructions and Creations: idealism, materialism and disability theory. In Disability and Society, Vol. 13(1), pp.75-94.

Schantz, O. J. & Gilbert, K. (2001) An Ideal Misconstrued: Newspaper Coverage of the AtlantaParalympic Games in Franceand Germany, in the Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 18( ), pp. 69-94.

Smith, A. & Thomas, N. (2005) The ‘inclusion’ of elite athletes with disabilities in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games: An exploratory analysis of British newspaper coverage, in Sport, Education and Society, Vol. 10(1), pp. 49 – 67.

Southam, M. (1994) Sport, Leisure, Disability. In The Leisure Manager, Oct/Nov 1994, pp.12-14.

Wendell, S. (1996) The Rejected Body: Feminist Phiolosophical Reflections on Disability,London: Routledge.

Sports on the Stoke Mandeville Games Programme (1948-1959) and the Paralympic Games Programme (1960-2012)

Sports in the Stoke Mandeville Games (1948 – 1953)

(All Wheelchair Sports)

Sport

1948

1949

1950

1951

1952

1953

Archery

X

X

X

X

X

X

Netball

 

X

X

X

X

X

Javelin

 

 

X

X

X

X

Snooker

 

 

 

X

X

X

Club Swinging

 

 

 

D

D

D

Table Tennis

 

 

 

D

X

X

Swimming

 

 

 

 

 

X

Dartchery

 

 

 

 

 

X

D: Demonstration

Sports in the Stoke Mandeville Games (1954 – 1959)

(All Wheelchair Sports)

Sport

1954

1955

1956

1957

1958

1959

Archery

X

X

X

X

X

X

Netball

X

 

 

 

 

 

Javelin

X

X

X

X

X

X

Snooker

X

X

X

X

X

X

Club Swinging

D

D

D

D

D

D

Table Tennis

X

X

X

X

X

X

Swimming

X

X

X

X

X

X

Dartchery

X

X

X

X

X

X

Fencing

D

X

X

X

X

X

Basketball

 

X

X

X

X

X

Shot Putt

 

 

 

X

X

X

Club

 

 

 

 

X

X

Pentathlon*

 

 

 

 

 

X

D: Demonstration

Sports in the Paralympic Games (1960-1984)

Sport 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984NY 1984SM
Archery

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Athletics

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Dartchery

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Pentathlon*

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Snooker

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

Swimming

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Table Tennis

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

WC Basketball

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

WC Fencing

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

Weightlifting

 

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

Lawn Bowls

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

Goalball

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

 

Shooting

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

Volleyball (Standing)

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

 

Volleyball (Sitting)

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

 

Wrestling

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

 

Boccia

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Cycling

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Equestrian

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Football (7-a-side)

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

WC Football

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Powerlifting

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Sports in the Paralympic Games (1988-2012)

Sport 1988 1992 Barc 1992  Mad 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012
Archery

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Athletics

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Dartchery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentathlon*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snooker

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Table Tennis

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

WC Basketball

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

WC Fencing

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Weightlifting

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawn Bowls

X

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Goalball

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Shooting

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Volleyball (Standing)

X

X

 

X

X

 

 

 

Volleyball (Sitting)

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Wrestling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boccia

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Cycling

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Equestrian

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

Football (7-a-side)

X

X

 

X

X

WC Football

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powerlifting

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Judo

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

WC Tennis

D

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

Basketball (ID)

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

Indoor Football

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing

 

 

 

D

X

X

X

X

WC Rugby

 

 

 

D

X

X

X

X

Football (5-a-side)

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

Rowing

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

D: Demonstration       ID: Intellectual Disability   WC: Wheelchair

*Pentathlon consisted of archery, athletics and swimming events.

The role of sport in combating the different forms of ‘violence’ used against people with disabilities

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 disability 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. The impact of disability sport in this process appears to be two-fold. Firstly participation in disability sport impacts upon the self-confidence and self-image of people with disabilities helping them to overcome the negative perceptions of people with disabilities that they themselves may have often been socialised into believing (Huang & Brittain, 2005). Secondly, increasing media coverage, particularly of the Paralympic Games, has played a major role in highlighting just how wrong many of the negative perceptions of people with disabilities held by a large number of people within non-disabled society are.

Sport and Disability.

Devine (1997) claims that society has a prescribed set of standards by which we are all measured and when someone’s biological make-up or function fails to meet these standards they are ‘assumed to be inferior and are subject to a decrease in inclusion in society’ (Devine, 1997; p. 4). This is equally true for many aspects of life, but in the realm of sport, where one of the key aims is to distinguish between different levels of biological make-up and function through tests of physical strength, speed and endurance, this is especially true. In many ways sport is designed to highlight and revere extremes of bodily physical perfection and, under these circumstances, it is possible to see why, for some people, the idea of elite sport for people with disabilities, and in some cases any sport at all, is an anathema. Mastro et al (1988; p. 81) claim that part of the reason for this is that ‘there is no culturally recognised need for competition and sports beyond therapeutic programs’, which in itself has its roots in the schism between the socially constructed discourse of what sport is and the perceptions of disability embedded in the medical model discourse. By this I am referring to the view of sport as a means of highlighting bodily perfection and the perceptions embedded in the medical model discourse that views disability as a major form of biological imperfection. The outcome of such a situation for potential athletes with a disability is that their dreams and aspirations can be met with scorn or derision, which can then have a huge impact upon their self-confidence and self-image.

Self-Confidence and Self-Image.

When constantly confronted with negative perceptions about their abilities to carry out tasks that most people take for granted, and also bombarded with images of ‘physical perfection’ that most of the general public could not live up to, it is little wonder that many people with disabilities suffer from low self-esteem (Hargreaves, 2000). Seymour (1989) sums this up when she states:

“the body in which I live is visible to others, it is the object of social attention. I learn about my body from the impressions I see my body make on other people. These interactions with others provide critical visual data for my self-knowledge.” 

(Seymour, 1989 cited in Hargreaves, 2000; p. 185)

This perceived fear of failure and low sense of self-worth can act as a strong deterrent for many people (and especially women) with disabilities, to becoming involved in sport. This is especially true when you consider the fact that placing themselves in a sporting context is very likely to exacerbate the visibility of the very physical differences that lead to these feelings and perceptions in the first place. However, if these psychological barriers can be overcome Berger (2008) claims that the benefits gained by participation in sport include improved physical conditioning and a sense of bodily mastery, along with a heightened sense of self-esteem and personal empowerment that spills over into other social pursuits. (Berger, 2008; 650). These comments appear to concur with the findings of Sporner et al (2009) who investigated the psychosocial impact of participation in the 2006 National Veterans Wheelchair Games and Winter Sports Clinic for 132 veterans with disabilities. Key findings included that 84% felt that participation in these events led them to a greater acceptance of their own disabilities and 77.1% felt it led to a greater participation by themselves in society.

The Impact of the Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games is effectively the ‘shop window’ for disability sport and previous research has shown that it can have a major impact upon perceptions regarding people with disabilities for both non-disabled society and for other people with disabilities, some of whom may be inspired to try and take up sport (cf Brittain, 2009). Increasing media coverage, particularly of the Paralympic Games, has played a major role in highlighting just how wrong many of the negative perceptions of people with disabilities held by a large number of people within non-disabled society are. According to Hardin & Hardin (2004 in Berger, 2008; 650) disabled athletes themselves say they find media representations of other disabled athletes inspiring, believing that the latter model an affirmative experience of disability for people with disabilities as well as the general public. Dummer (1998) claims that media coverage of disability sport means that:

Athletes may be more likely to achieve at higher levels and to persist in sports when they receive media recognition for their accomplishments. Athletes, sports organizations, and event hosts find it easier to acquire sponsors when there is adequate media coverage. Media coverage also facilitates public awareness and acceptance of disability and disability sport. Finally, as more and more people with disabilities learn about sport opportunities, the number of participants increases

(Dummer, 1998; p.56)

For the Sydney 2000 summer Paralympic Games the BBC produced around 10-12 hours of coverage in the UK. For the London 2012 summer Paralympic Games Chennel 4, who won the right to be the host broadcaster in a competitive tender with the BBC, have contracted to broadcast 130 hours of coverage. This is a more than ten-fold increase in just twelve years. A recent Department of Culture, Media and Sport report entitled ‘London 2012: a legacy for disabled people’ stated:

A successful Paralympic Games will raise awareness, help to challenge stereotypes, and improve understanding, while at the same time raising the profile of disability sport…The 2012 Games must be seen as a beacon of accessibility and inclusion for participants and visitors alike. In the 2009 annual opinion tracker survey, 77 per cent of disabled people under 65 believed this to be a very important benefit of the Games.

(DCMS, 2010; p.12)

Conclusion

In conclusion the impact that disability sport can have upon the self-confidence and self image of people with disabilities and upon the perceptions of those within non-disabled society regarding people with disabilities appear to indicate a potentially strong role in over-coming or combating the different forms of violence outlined in my last post. These different forms of violence highlighted in the adaptation of Galtung’s Triangle of Violence and rooted in the medical model of disability can have a hugely negative impact upon the lives of people with disabilities. There is a growing body of evidence of the potential for sport to transform these conflicts into positive experiences for both disabled and non-disabled individuals alike.

Berger, R.J., 2008, Disability and the Dedicated Wheelchair Athlete: Beyond the “Supercrip” Critique, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 37 (6); p. 647 – 678.

Brittain, I., 2009, The Paralympic Games Explained, Rouledge, UK

DCMS, 2010, London 2012: a legacy for disabled people, DCMS, London.

Devine, M.A., Inclusive Leisure Services and Research: A Consideration of the Use of Social Construction Theory in Journal of Leisurability, Spring 1997,Vol. 24(2), p. 3 – 11.

Dummer, G.M., 1998, Media Coverage of Disability Sport, Palaestra, Vol. 14 (4); p. 56.

Hardin, M.M. & Hardin, B., 2004, The “Supercrip” in Sport Media: WQheelchair athletes discuss hegemony’s disabled hero. Sociology of Sport online Vol. 7(1), http://physed.otago.ac.nz/sosol/v7i1/v7i1.html.

Hargreaves, J., 2000, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity, Routledge, London.

Huang, C. J. & Brittain. I., 2006, Negotiating identities through disability sport: From negative label to positive self-identification, Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 23(4), p. 352-375.

Mastro, J.V., Hall, M.M., & Canabal, M.Y., 1988, Cultural and Attitudinal Similarities – Females and Disabled Individuals in Sports and Athletics, in JOPERD, Nov/ Dec 1988, Vol. 59(9), p.80-83.

Seymour, W., 1989, Body Alterations, Unwin Hyman, London.

Sporner, M.L., Fitzgerald, S.G., Dicianno, B.E., Collins, D., Teodorski, E., Pasquina, P.F. & Cooper, R.A., 2009, Psychosocial impact of participation in the National Veterans Games and Winter Sports Clinic, Disability and Rehabilitation, Vol. 31(5); p. 410 – 418.