Creating opportunities in sport for people with disabilities

Briefing 15-02-2021

Disability is a complex, multidimensional and contested term for which there is no common definition, but which is generally understood as a dynamic interaction between health conditions and contextual factors, both personal and environmental. A billion people in the world, of whom over 70 million in the EU, live with disabilities today. Official sporting events for people with disabilities have existed for over a century. The Silent Games – the first competition for athletes with a disability (now Deaflympics) – were held in 1924 in Paris (France). Some disability sports are traditional sports slightly modified to meet the needs of people with a disability and are referred to as 'adapted sports'. Others, such as boccia, have been designed specifically with no equivalent in mainstream sport. 'Disability sport' is used as an umbrella term to describe sports activities developed for the benefit of people or athletes with disabilities. In the last century, various disability sports and competitions have been developed and run under the auspices of specialised international organisations. Regrettably, there is no centralised data collection on the participation of people with disabilities in sport at EU level. Instead, EU countries gather a variety of non-harmonised indicators, making it impossible to make consistent comparisons. According to a 2018 Eurobarometer survey, having a disability or illness is the third most frequently mentioned reason – by 14 % of respondents – for not practising sports more regularly. To remove such barriers and improve the participation of people with disabilities in sports, over 50 Erasmus+ projects have supported such activities since 2014. At national level, some EU countries, such as France, Ireland and the Netherlands, have adopted centralised approaches based on national strategies and funding initiatives. Others, including Belgium, Italy and Spain, favour strategies developed and implemented mainly at regional or local level. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on sports activities for people with disabilities. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, rescheduled for August-September 2021, will be broadcast to an estimated global audience of 4.3 billion people and should help to put disability back at the heart of the inclusion agenda.