The Stoke Mandeville Games: Summing up the first twelve years

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 and three hundred and sixty competitors 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. There appear to be five possible mechanisms that played key roles in spreading the word regarding the 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 Royal Perth Hospital on a visit in 1956. Australia sent their first team to Stoke Mandeville the following year.

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. Indeed the welcome notes in the programme for the 1959 International Stoke Mandeville Games clearly state ‘it has always been our ambition to model our International Stoke Mandeville Games on the lines of 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.

There are also two other key factors that enabled the organisers of the Stoke Mandeville Games to cope with the rapid growth of the Games from a financial perspective:

1. The World Veteran’s Federation provided funding to enable veterans to afford the cost of travel to Stoke Mandeville for the Games. Without this funding many of these individuals and teams would have simply been unable to attend as is shown by the absence of Australia, Portugal and Sweden in 1958, when the WVF had withdrawn their financial support to concentrate on other projects.

2. The British Paraplegic Sports Endowment Fund and its much smaller predecessor, the Paraplegic Sports Fund, along with all the generous support and fundraising by numerous individuals and organisations enabled the Games organisers to cope with the increased costs of the growth. It also allowed them to make the necessary additions and upgrades to the facilities in order to cope with not only the increased number of competitors, but also the increase in the numbers of spectators wishing to attend the Games.

Two of the key indicators of the successful growth of the Stoke Mandeville Games are the vastly increased sporting programme over the period and the huge increase in the number of competitors in terms of both individuals and teams. Table one highlights the growth in the sporting programme, which increased from one sport in 1948 to eleven sports just twelve years later. There was also a large growth in the number of events within some sports over the same period, such as archery where the increase was led by improved available space and improved technical ability or a number of other sports where changes in the classification system and increased number of competitors led to events being split into several classification groupings.

Growth in the Sporting Programme of the Stoke Mandeville Games (48 – 59)

Sport

48

49

50

51

52

53

54

55

56

57

58

59

Archery

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Netball

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

Javelin

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Snooker

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Club Swinging

 

 

 

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

Table Tennis

 

 

 

D

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Swimming

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Dartchery

 

 

 

 

 

X

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

The growth in the number of nations represented at the Games after they first became truly international in 1952 was quite dramatic. Table 2 shows that in just six years the number of nations represented went from two to twenty-four.

Growth in the Number of Teams  at the Stoke Mandeville Games (48-60)

Country

48

49

50

51

52

53

54

55

56

57

58

59

60

British Organistions

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Great Britain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

Netherlands

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Canada

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Finland

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

France

 

 

 

P

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Israel

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Austria

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Belgium

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

X

X

P

 

 

Portugal

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

 

X

 

Yugoslavia

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

 

X

 

X

Australia

 

 

 

P

 

P

P

P

X

X

 

 

X

South Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

X

X

X

 

 

Malta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

 

X

X

X

X

Malaysia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

X

X

 

 

 

United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

 

X

 

Norway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

Greece

 

P

P

P

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

X

X

Sweden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

Switzerland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

Lebanon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

 

X

Northern Rhodesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

 

X

Uruguay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

 

 

India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

X

 

Cyprus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P

 

Southern Rhodesia

 

 

 

P

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

6

14

18

18

24

20

17

21

P: Individual Patient from Stoke Mandeville or other Unit.

The slight decline in the number of nations in 1958 and 1959 is likely due to the withdrawal of funding by the World Veteran’s Federation as mentioned above. However, this funding was re-instated for the first Paralympic Games held in Rome in 1960 and may explain why the number of competing nations rose again, although this may also have been due to the added prestige of competing in the Olympic host city shortly after the Olympic Games had taken place.

 

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