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Despite challenges, the Paralympics remain as vital as ever

10 15 14

The Tokyo Paralympics, the 16th such event taking place, started on August 24 and will end on September 5, hot on the heels of the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events had to be delayed by a year due to the ongoing pandemic.

The Paralympics, first known as the Stoke-Mandeville Games, was conceived during the London 1948 Summer Olympics, when a small group of injured servicemen and women participated in a wheelchair archery competition to cater for wounded servicepeople as a result of the second world war.

The link between the Paralympics and the Olympics was formalised in 1960 in Rome, launching the first officially named Paralympics.

A winter version was conceived in 1976, and the Paralympics gradually sought to become genuinely parallel to the main Olympics on an equal footing, with the Seoul Games in 1988 being the first where both events shared venues in the same city.

Cities seeking to host the games also bid for both events as a package, and each has an opening and a closing ceremony. In terms of what is on offer for elite athletes, the Paralympics has in some ways become even bigger than the Olympics, offering nearly 200 more gold medals.

Being part of such a significant sporting brand has enabled the Paralympics to provide a much-needed platform for athletes with disabilities and impairments to showcase their talents at the highest level.

The Paralympics also acts as an anchor for the wider sporting sector, providing support for the various sporting bodies that form part of the sprawling formal and informal ecosystem of grassroots organisations for athletes to be recruited and trained, working years ahead of each Paralympic cycle.

People with disabilities can face considerable practical barriers in their daily lives, let alone as elite athletes.

The added cost of specialist equipment and staffing makes it worse.

A visually impaired athlete has to factor in the cost of hiring a guide, while for a competition-standard racing wheelchair, athletes have to pay between $6,890 and $27,500, a sum that can only be afforded by a few.

According to the sports agency Two Circles, sport sponsorship as a whole is worth $48bn, but........

© Al Jazeera

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