History | Disability Categories


The Paralympic Games are an elite multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities. This includes mobility disabilities, amputees, visual disabilities and those with cerebral palsy. The Paralympic Games are held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). (The Paralympic Games are sometimes confused with the Special Olympics, which are only for people with intellectual disabilities.)

International Paralympic Committee logo.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition in 1948 which became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, involving World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries; in 1952 competitors from the Netherlands took part in the competition, giving an international notion to the movement. The first Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were held in Rome in 1960; officially called the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, these are considered to be the first Paralympic Games. The first Winter Paralympics were held in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 1976.

Since 1988, the Summer Paralympics have been held in the conjunction with the Olympic Games in the same host city. This practice was adopted in 1992 for the Winter Paralympics, and became an official policy of the International Olympic Committee and the IPC following a June 19, 2001 agreement. The Games take place three weeks after the closing of the Olympics, in the same host city and using the same facilities. Cities bidding to host the Olympic Games must include the Paralympic Games in their bid, and typically both Games are now run by a single organizing committee.

In the 1996 Atlanta Games athletes with intellectual disabilities were allowed to participate for the first time. However following cheating in the 2000 Sydney Games, in which non-disabled athletes were entered in the Spanish Basketball ID team, such athletes were banned by the IPC. Following an anti-corruption drive, the International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) lobbied to have these athletes reinstated. Beginning in 2004, athletes with an intellectual disability began to be re-integrated into Paralympic sport competitions, although they remain excluded from the Paralympic Games. The IPC has stated that it will re-evaluate their participation following the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

The name derives from the Greek "para" ("beside" or "alongside") and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. No relation with paralysis or paraplegia is intended.

Disability Categories

The categories apply for both summer and winter Paralympics.