Volume 7 Issue 2 - January 15, 2010

A brief history of disability sports

Disabled athlete
Disabled athlete

Disability sports today has come of age! But how and when did this process actually start? Iftu Ahmed’s article in The Financial Express, Bangladesh gives an insight on the genesis of disability sports and also talks at length about Deaflympics. We reproduce it here for the benefit of D.N.I.S. readers:

To enrich the life of people with disabilities is a great mission.

Disability sports, dominated by Deaflympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics, deserve admiration for its distinct history. It needed sheer vision to organise the unprecedented competitions for athletes with disabilities. The pioneers, who had the foresight deserve praise.

The International Silent Games, held in Paris, France, in 1924, were the first recorded games for any group of people with disabilities. The games over, the deaf sporting leaders assembled at a café and established Le Comite International des Sports Silencieux, which in French means the International Committee of Silent Sports (C.I.S.S.).

The C.I.S.S. was later renamed Le Comite International des Sports des Sourds or the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (I.C.S.D.). In 1955, the International Olympics Committee (I.O.C.) recognized I.C.S.D.

The I.C.S.D., the international governing body of sports for the deaf and hard of hearing athletes, is now situated in Fredrick, Maryland, U.S.A. The I.C.S.D. organises Summer and Winter Deaflympics, and Regional Championships. Deaflympics means the Deaf Olympics Games, which were previously known as the World Games for the Deaf and the International Games for the Deaf. Now, 96 national deaf sports federations are affiliated to the I.C.S.D.

The Deaflympics are held every four years like the Olympic Games. No Deaflympics were held between 1940 and 1948 due to World War II (1939-1945). Just like Olympiad, each Deaflympics is designated by Roman numerals.

The I.C.S.D.'s four Regional Confederations are the European Deaf Sports Organization (E.D.S.O.), the Asia Pacific Deaf Sports Confederation (A.P.D.S.C.), the Confederation of African Deaf Sports (C.A.D.S.) and the Pan American Deaf Sports Organization (P.A.N.A.M.D.E.S.).

The E.D.S.O. consists of 41 countries, the A.P.D.S.C. represents 28 countries including Bangladesh and the C.A.D.S. -- 19 countries and the P.A.N.A.M.D.E.S. -- 12 countries.

In 2004, the Deaf Cricket International Federation (D.C.I.F.) was established. The deaf cricket nations are Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe.

To qualify in deaf sports, athletes must have a hearing loss of 55 Decibels (D.B.) or greater in their better ear. No hearing aid or cochlear implants are permitted during competition. In deaf games, football referees wave flags instead of blowing whistle and on the track, races are started by using a light flash (strobe light), instead of starter pistol.

In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980) organised a sports competition for wheelchair athletes in Stoke Mandeville, England, when the Olympic Games were being held in London. In 1952, the competitors from the Netherlands joined the competition with the British. It gave birth to the idea of Paralympic Games.

In 1960, Rome hosted the first Paralympic Games, the multi-sport events, designated for athletes with physical and visual disabilities including amputations, blindness and cerebral palsy. Based in Bonn, Germany, the International Paralympic Committee (I.P.C.), the governing body of the Global Paralympic Movement, organises both Summer and Winter Paralympic Games every four years following the Olympic Games.

The Paralympic Games are the world's second largest sporting event after the Olympic Games. "Spirit in Motion" is the motto of Paralympics. An agreement signed between the I.O.C. and the I.P.C. in 2001 stipulates that from 2012, the host cities would organise the Olympic Games as well as the Paralympic Games.

In 1960, the idea of sports for athletes with intellectual disabilities (below-average cognitive abilities) was conceived by the Special Olympics Movement. In 1968, the first International Special Olympics was held in Chicago. Since then, the Special Olympics are held every two years altering between Summer and Winter Games.

In 1988, the I.O.C. recognised the Special Olympics. Now the Home of Special Olympics is situated in Washington, D.C.

Non-disability community may ask, why athletes with disabilities do not compete together within one Olympics? It is indeed a complex question. An analysis of the facts of three disability sports would enable the skeptics to comprehend the differences.

First of all, athletes with hearing disability do not want to compete in the Special Olympics events because Special Olympics are for athletes with mental disabilities. Besides, Special Olympics is a private organization, and not a part of I.P.C. The I.C.S.D. motto of "Equal through Sports," disaffiliated it from the I.P.C. for unequal standards.

In 1985, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the 7th President of I.O.C. (1980-2001) requested I.C.S.D. to join I.P.C. to form a single organization of sports for athletes with disabilities. In 1986, I.C.S.D. joined I.P.C. on the guarantee that it would enjoy autonomy for its own Games.

In 1990, some problems occurred and I.C.S.D. lost its autonomy. They were forced to form a single national sports organization. The deaf were told to participate in the Paralympic Games, not in the Deaf Games.

Finally, the I.O.C. gave I.C.S.D. the option to leave I.P.C., if they wanted to. And I.O.C. continues to recognise them and their Deaf Games. Soon, the delegates of I.C.S.D. voted and withdrew from I.P.C.

The events of Paralympic Games are adapted, classified under six disability categories of amputee, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, wheelchair, visually impaired and les autres (the others). Athletes with a physical disability that do not fall strictly under one of the other five categories are categorised les autres, French words for "the others", to include dwarfism, multiple sclerosis or congenital deformity of limbs caused by thalidomide.

Depending on different skills required to perform the sports, the classification system differs from sport to sport. For example, swimming has 10 classifications. Intellectual disability has, of late, been suspended from the Paralympic Games. But the 1996 Paralympic Games included athletes with some of the mental disabilities.

The Olympic Games for the able-bodied do not deny access to disabled athletes. Depending on performance and qualification, physically able-bodied deaf athletes can compete without significant restrictions, with athletes without disabilities.

The competition between able-bodied and disabled athletes is not new. Many disabled athletes around the globe competed with able- bodied athletes.

Natalie du Toit, the South African swimmer and the first disabled Olympian, performed very well in the Women's 10,000 m open water marathon swimming and secured 16th place among 24 swimmers in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With her left leg amputated below the knee, Natalie's performance was deeply appreciated.

In India, Anjan Bhattacharjee, a deaf bowler, played a dozen Ranji Trophy cricket matches with able bodied players in the early 1970s. He won the prestigious national Arjuna Award for sports.

With deafness, the writer of this article also played cricket with the able-bodied. He played in the 2nd, 6th and 8th Bangladesh National Cricket Tournaments for Mymensingh District.

The writer can be reached at iftuahmed@sbcglobal.net

Source: http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com

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