What is the situation of sports for people with a disability in Europe?

By SPIN & EPC

How is the situation in general?

An estimated number of people with a disability in the EU declares around 80 million persons; which means app. 15% of the population. People with reduced mobility are even estimated to represent more than 40%.

Sport is recognized as a tool to stay healthy; it promotes social and educational values, and it has the potential to promote cohesion in societies.

For people with a disability sport can play a key role; both as regards its value for social inclusion and for activating health-enhancing physical activity.

However, sport for and with people with a disability in Europe still is in its early stages of development, when compared to sports in general.

So, when it comes to day-to-day participation possibilities in sports for people with a disability, the European countries do not – or rather cannot – offer a level playing field.

What is sport for people with a disability?

A definition of sport at the European level is often referred to the European Sport Charter; proposing “sport as all physical activities, which are carried out in order to express or improve physical fitness and mental wellbeing”. In principle, any sports for people with a disability are fully included into this, and one may refrain from any further definition.

However, in some cases distinction needs to made, where the term “disability-sport” often appears as serving as a generic term for sports specifically practiced by people with a disability. The practice of sports by persons with a disability is closely related to their ability and the respective medical taxonomic systems. Therefore, as the term “disability” is a complex phenomenon and multi-dimensional experience, so is the term disability-sport.

With heterogenic definitions existing in the different European countries, ranging from elite sport to recreational sport and adapted physical activity to rehabilitation sport concepts, defining disability-sport is as complex as defining the term “sport”. Some disability-sports are sports that are slightly modified to meet the needs of some persons’ abilities; others have been specifically created with no equivalent.

In general, disability-sport may be described as “any kind of sports activities that have been created or developed for the benefit of, or are specifically practiced by, people with a disability; including opportunities for them to practice sports with or against others”.

What are para-sports?

The Paralympic Movement believes that lack of inclusion or mobility restriction are often due to external factors that can be overcome.

The Paralympics are all about ability, not inability! Therefore, the word “impairment” is preferred to “disability” and instead of “athlete with a disability” the term “athlete with an impairment” and – more recently – the term “para-athlete” is used. These terms refer to all athletes within the Paralympic Movement from grassroots to elite level.

In this regard, the term “para-sports” is a definition used by the Paralympic Movement concerning all sports for athletes with an impairment, whether they feature on the Paralympic programme or not. The term is used for all other sports events outside of the Paralympic Games.

Paralympic sports, on the other hand, is a general reference to any sport on the Paralympic programme. This is only used when referring to the sport’s involvement in the Paralympic Games.

Who is the European Paralympic Committee?

The European Paralympic Committee (EPC) was founded as the IPC European Committee in November 1991, and adopted its current name in 1999. In 2008 the permanent Office and Headquarters was established in Vienna, Austria.

The EPC is composed of forty-nine National Paralympic Committees and the European branches of four disability-specific International Organisations of Sports for the Disabled and one independent Paralympic sport federation.

The EPC aims are to provide sports programmes and initiatives for sports for persons with a disability, for example by holding a European Para-Youth Games each second year and to increase the participation rates in sport in the less Economically Affluent zones of Europe. The strategy is also to increase participation rates of women in sport and to be an athlete centred organisation throughout Europe.

What is the vision of the European Paralympic Committee?

The vision of the EPC is to be a strong umbrella association for promotion and development of sports for para-athletes in Europe. It will extend its influence throughout Europe aligned with the European values of sports and based on the tradition of the Paralympic Movement.

EPC should be known as pioneering a region where European para-athletes and the sports are the main focus and driver. EPC is a sport organisation that seeks to promote and develop sport at an equal level with the Mainstream Sport Movement; that can as well be used as a driver for equal rights of persons with a disability.

Whom to contact for further information?

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