The Power of the Paralympics

The Rio Paralympics 2016 began on Wednesday with a spectacular opening ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium, Brazil. The games provide the opportunity to consider current challenges to sports participation experienced by disabled people and also to highlight the transformative power of sport. 

Within global sports participation, of both disabled and non-disabled people, there is a widening gap between developed and developing countries. The gap has been linked to a shortage of physical education available from state to state, a lack of money, a shortage of equipment and facilities as well as a ‘muscle drain’ from developing countries to developed countries. 

This gap has widened while research – conducted by the UN and Unicef respectively – continually highlights the benefit sport can have to people’s lives and communities. Research by Sport and Development has also shown how sport can be a low-cost and effective way of increasing the wellbeing, social inclusion and be used to help challenge existing stereotypes of people with a disability.

In terms of the wider landscape, the World Health Organisation estimates that 650 million people live with disabilities of various types globally; 80% of which live in low-income countries. The reality is that most disabled people worldwide are poor and have limited or no access to basic services.

On an individual level, people with a disability may face a number of additional barriers to participation in sport compared to people without a disability. Whilst it is important to recognise that not every person with a disability in the developing world will experience all barriers simultaneously, the potential barriers to sports participation are felt more acutely. 

There exists a lack of positive early experiences in sport for people with a disability, a lack of understanding and awareness of how to include people with a disability in sport, as well as a lack of opportunities for participation (Sport and Development).

Environmental factors are also prevalent, including a lack of transportation, facilities and limited access to information and resources, as well as limiting psychological and sociological factors including attitudes towards disability (Sport and Development).

In developed countries perceptions of people with a disability being able to participate in sport and physical activity have changed. This is in large part thanks to the increased visibility and media attention during and after the London Paralympics 2012. A cumulative 3.4 billion people watched the games, which continued the legacy of championing disabled athletes built over successive Paralympic games. 

In developed countries opportunities now exist from the grassroots to elite levels for people with a disability to showcase their abilities in sport. However, this is not the case in all parts of the world, which is why the Paralympics offer such a significant opportunity to challenge perceptions and attitudes towards sport and disability around the world, but most prominently in developing countries.

The Rio Paralympics 2016 will be the first games to have an Independent Paralympic Athletes Team, and Rio 2016 promises to be the event where more records are broken, stereotypes are challenged, and dreams come true.

Written by Rory Anderson

Celebrating inspirational athletes who harness the power of sport to do social good is key to Play for Change. Please visit the TV Sports Awards 2016  to find out more about the Play for Change Award, and the two fantastic nominees. 

External article links: 


Sport and Development:



World Health Organisation: