12 Pages

Disability, Olympism and Paralympism

People with physical and sensory disabilities have been competing in international sports for over 80 years. The public is still often led to believe that sport events for disabled people are so virtuous that they are devoid of politics and beyond petty political argument because they are an all-inclusive, wholesome invention. This myth associated with sport for the disabled should be critically examined as politics are fundamental to all spheres of society and, consequently, have been central to sport for the disabled from its genesis. Events for athletes with hearing disability were organized at an interna-

tional level as early as 1924 (Doll-Tepper, 1999). An event, known as the International Silent Games, was held in Paris and became the first staging of what are now called the Deaflympics. The first international competition for those who use wheelchairs was staged in 1952 at Stoke Mandeville, England. These early events were staged for disability groups who ‘suffered’ from a single impairment and were established with a charitable mandate to help a particular marginalized group of people. The fact that early events were disability and not sport specific led to ever increasing political tension between various International Organizations of Sport for the Disabled (IOSDs) prior to the establishment of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 1989. The IOSDs, including the Cerebral Palsy International Sport and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA), the International Blind Sport Association (IBSA), the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID), and the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport Association (IWAS), were instrumental in the development of the IPC. IPC events have been open to individual members of the IOSDs but not all disabilities are catered for within these groups and, thus, many forms of disability are excluded from these events. The politics surrounding which disability groups are part of the Paralympic Movement and howmuch influence each group has within it is central to this discussion. This chapter explores a number of key developments within disability sport

generally and Paralympic sport in particular that have impacted upon the cultural politics of the Paralympic Movement (see Howe, 2008). This critical evaluation starts by discussing the importance of the political agenda behind the development of the academic field of disability studies which has led to a lack of attention being paid to the embodied experience of disability. By

highlighting the changes within sport for the disabled governance, the chapter will also draw attention to the debate surrounding the use of Olympic values, articulated through the ideology of Olympism, as a way of possibly adding virtue to the Paralympic Movement. The ideology of Paralympism fostered by the IPC is related to, but distinct from, Olympism because of the centrality of the praxis of categorizing disabled bodies known as classification. Finally, classification will be shown to be a political as well as a mechanical process for ordering disabled bodies before competition even begins.