8-29-2012By Maron Soueid
Human Rights Defenders
This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights Series.
Though London’s Olympic caldron has been extinguished, the 2012 Olympic Games are far from over. The Paralympic Games began in London today. Although not as high-profile as its able-bodied counterpart, the Paralympics give disabled athletes from all over the world the opportunity to participate on an international sports stage. This inclusion increases sports participation for all people and leads to greater social acceptance and leadership opportunities.
Athletes with certain physical disabilities – including mobility disabilities such as paraplegia, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy – are allowed to participate in the Paralympics. Initiated by a group of British World War II veterans in 1948, the Paralympics have grown into an international competition capable of producing world class athletes and athletic competition.
Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, believes the Paralympics have a broader social impact. Craven explained, “Before the Games, 83 million people with an impairment were excluded from society.” Now, the Paralympics serve as a stage to raise awareness on disabilities issues and to better socially integrate the physically impaired.
Athletes who have survived injuries from violent armed conflicts show some of the most brutal aspects of war. Mohammad Fahim Rahimi,a Powerlifter from Afghanistan, lost most of his right leg in a mine during Afghanistan’s civil war. In this year’s Paralympics, he seeks to prove that he can overcome his injuries.
Several physically impaired athletes, such as Neroli Fairhall, Natalia Partyka, Natalie du Toit, and Oscar Pistorius, have also competed in the Olympic Games. Neroli Fairhall became the first Paralympian to participate in the Olympics, competing in archery in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Fairhall won gold in the Paralympic archery competition and came in 34th place in the Olympic Games.
Recently, Polish athlete Natalia Partyka, who was born without a right hand and forearm, won gold in women’s singles table tennis in 2004 and 2008. Partyka and Natalie du Toit, the first amputee to qualify for the Olympics, were the first to participate in both the Olympics and Paralympics. Du Toit’s left leg was amputated at age 17 after being hit by a car while returning home from swimming practice. And Oscar Pistorius attracted the world’s attention by being the first double-leg amputee to compete in both events. Pistorius’ participation in the Olympics caused controversy due to his prosthetic running blades. Some claimed that the prosthetics gave Pistorius an advantage over other sprinters, but he was eventually cleared to run in the Olympic Games.
In 2008, disability lobbying groups successfully pressured Beijing organizers to build facilities for physically impaired persons. Television coverage of and attendance at the Paralympics is also expected to increase this year.
Events will begin in London starting Wednesday, August 29.