IPC President doesn’t see inclusion of para sport events at multi-sports games leading to merge between Olympics and Paralympics

Over the last two decades, para sport has found a place in the spotlight outside the Paralympic Movement at various multi-sports games around the world. IPC President Andrew Parsons sees this as a positive promotion of para sport, but not one that will lead to an eventual merge between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Athletics - Women's 100m - T63 Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 4, 2021. Ambra Sabatini of Italy in action. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Athletics - Women's 100m - T63 Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 4, 2021. Ambra Sabatini of Italy in action. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Para sport was first included on the official sports program of the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Athletes with disabilities have competed on the same stage as able-bodied athletes at every edition of the Commonwealth Games since then. The integration of para sport competition at the Commonwealth Games has led to questions about the future of the Paralympic Movement in an age that’s seen increased cooperation with the Olympic Movement.

In a year that will see the historic inclusion of para sport events at ISF Summer Gymnasiade and the IWGA World Games, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons expounded on the impact of those opportunities during an interview with Around the Rings earlier this month.

“We are happy with the inclusion of wheelchair rugby in the World Games,” said Parsons. “I think in these events…it’s something that promotes Paralympic sport. It’s something that exposes some para sports events to wider audiences.”

The World Games, ISF Gymnasiade, and Commonwealth Games aren’t the only multi-sport events to have included para sport on their official sports programs over the last two decades. Past editions of the Mediterranean Games, Islamic Solidarity Games, and the Jeux de la Francophonie have featured para sport competitions as well.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Rugby - Mixed - Gold Medal - United States v Britain - Yoyogi National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 29, 2021. Charles Aoki of the United States in action with Jim Roberts of Britain. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Rugby - Mixed - Gold Medal - United States v Britain - Yoyogi National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 29, 2021. Charles Aoki of the United States in action with Jim Roberts of Britain. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

However, despite the increased inclusion of para sport competitions at multi-sport events tailored to able-bodied athletes, Parsons does not see a future for para sport that includes integration with the Olympic Games.

“We don’t see that as something that will lead to any merge between the Olympics and Paralympics,” explained Parsons. “This is because the only global event that puts persons with disabilities center stage is the Paralympic Games.”

“It’s the platform,” he argued. “We are giving a voice to 1.2 billion people. It’s their moment. The moment we merge with the Olympics…probably we will lose that platform.”

Parsons held fast to his position that the Paralympic Games provided athletes with disabilities a platform the Olympic Games could not, even if the two prominent competitions were merged together.

He told Around the Rings, “we do believe that persons with disability, athletes with disability, want their Games, their event. [A] moment [where] they can raise their issues [and] show to the world they are skilled and what they are capable of.”

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Cycling Road - Women's B Road Race - Fuji International Speedway, Shizuoka, Japan - September 3, 2021.  Lora Fachie of Britain and pilot Corinne Hall in action. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Cycling Road - Women's B Road Race - Fuji International Speedway, Shizuoka, Japan - September 3, 2021. Lora Fachie of Britain and pilot Corinne Hall in action. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

In terms of the current arrangement between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and IPC, Parsons stated, “we believe that the current model we have with the IOC is the best one; the Olympics with the Paralympics.”

He added, “the ability to have the Paralympic Games in [the] same host city, in the same host nation, organized back-to-back with the Olympics, gives us probably a platform every other sports organization or movement in the world would like to have.”

While a merger between the Olympics and Paralympics seems unlikely in future, it’s clear that Olympic and Paralympic Movements are increasingly intermingling in a way that may lead to more opportunities for athletes with disabilities.

It remains to be seen if this mingling will benefit the organizers of multi-sports games, along with the para sports community. It has, however, opened the door to larger, more complex discussions about the inclusion of para sports events in major international competitions.