The Summer Paralympics Games took place this past summer – for the 15th time since they were started in 1960. And just as at the Olympic Games celebrated a few weeks earlier, the athletes who gathered in Rio de Janeiro in September were full of high spirits, aspirations and hopes. “Parasport is just like any other sport in that regard,” says Inês Lopes, head of the Swedish Parasport Federation’s elite programme. “The athletes are driven by the same things – passion for their sport and the will to win, to be the best and to break records.”
Parasport is sport for people with some sort of impairment, physical or mental. It is parallel to sport for athletes without any impairment and uses adapted equipment or rules. There are also some parasports that are unique to para-athletes.
We are gaining ground here, but it takes time and there are other aspects we need to work with.
Johan Strid, secretary general of the Swedish Parasport Federation
Even if elite para-athletes struggle as hard as other athletes to improve and gain a competitive edge, parasport trails mainstream sport in terms of percentage of participants, something that troubles the federation’s secretary general, Johan Strid.
“While around 54 percent of unimpaired youth practise some sort of regular sport, we estimate that only around 4 percent of youngsters with some impairment up to the age of 18 actively pursue some sort of sport,” Strid says. “One of our priorities is to increase this, since being active in sport is not only very beneficial for the individual but also for the public health at large.”
He stresses that people with impairments have the same right to be able to practise a sport as anyone else and that integrating parasports into the regular physical education in schools is one of the big challenges they are working with at the moment.
“We are gaining ground here, but it takes time and there are other aspects we need to work with,” he says. “Parents of children with impairments can often be a little overprotective, for example.”