What The ‘Para’ In Paralympics Actually Means
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics kicks off today, August 24, and while most people know it is an event for athletes with an impairment, not everyone knows exactly why it’s called the ‘Paralympics’.
The opening ceremony of the games comes after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics came to a close on August 8, with hundreds more athletes now warming up and ready for their time in the spotlight.
Though the amount of athletes competing in the Paralympic Games has increased to a record number this year, sporting events designed for athletes with impairments has been around for more than 100 years, while the first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960.
Paralympic Games have taken place every four years since then. However, it wasn’t until September 1989 that the International Paralympic Committee was founded as an international non-profit organisation in Dusseldorf, Germany, to act as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement.
With the event well and truly established, some still question the meaning of the word ‘Paralympics’, with some assuming the ‘para’ may have been derived from the word ‘paralysed’ in relation to some impairments athletes may have.
This belief is made evident in a Twitter poll asking, ‘What does the PARA in Paralympics stand for?’, in which 37.5% of respondents suggested ‘Paralysis’. The suggestion ‘Parallel’ received 12.5% of the vote, while ‘Paraplegia’ and ‘All of the above’ each earned 25%.
Though it received the least votes, ‘parallel’ is actually the correct answer to this question, as the official Paralympics website explains:
The word “Paralympic” derives from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic”.
Its meaning is that Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.
Despite the long-running history of the Games, this realisation continues to come as a surprise to many, as social media users have continued to share their newfound knowledge of the word over the years.
A milestone in Paralympic history came even before the official establishment of the Games, when Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes on July 29, 1948.
Guttmann named the event the Stoke Mandeville Games, and it took place on the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games with 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in archery.
The International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded in 1952, when Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement, after which the Games eventually went on to become the Paralympics.
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