Paralympics: From the past and into the future

The Paralympic movement has grown significantly in the past 30 years and it will continue to progress thanks to a partnership with the International Olympic Committee that runs until 2032.

1988 Games in South Korea proved to be major stepping stone for Paralympic movement

Canada's Daniel Wesley is pictured above competing in the men's super-G event at the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano, Japan. (Alex Livesey/Allsport)

As another Paralympic Games come to a close, we've become used to seeing amazing performances from athletes around world.

But it's worth noting how far the Paralympic movement has come in the past thirty years – especially in the same host country of South Korea.

In 1988, corporate sponsors, television rights, and the overall commercialization of the Paralympics were still a distant dream.

Seoul '88 – a major stepping stone

But 1988 proved to be a major stepping stone for the Paralympic movement. It would mark the first time the Paralympics would be hosted at the same site as the Olympics.

This would provide the Paralympic movement with a much-needed boost for its athletes and prospective sponsors.  Before the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, the games were played in more modest venues, with almost no spectators in attendance.

In fact, with no established relationship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Paralympics were often split into two different cities at the same time and had limited world-wide exposure.

The Seoul Paralympics gave para athletes the opportunity to use the same venues as their Olympic counterparts.

From an athlete perspective, this milestone was huge.

New Westminster, B.C., native Daniel Wesley competed in his first Paralympic Games in 1988. 

Wesley, now retired, is one of Canada's most decorated Paralympic athletes of all time. He went on to earn 12 Paralympic medals – five of them gold - in both the Summer and Winter Games.

"Even if the stands were not as full as the Olympics, the energy and excitement was still there," Wesley said.

"When I first took part in Seoul, I thought it was the biggest hurdle and reward the IOC could give the Paralympic movement, and now it's just the norm that athletes compete in the same venues."

While no formal agreement between the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) would come together for a few more years, there is no doubt that Seoul paved the way for future Paralympic Games.

This past week, the IPC announced a partnership agreement with the IOC that will run through 2032. The agreement builds upon the existing cooperation agreement. Both the IOC and IPC will work together to increase the overall viability of the Games and also help with funding support for the Paralympics.

The agreement further illustrates how far the relationship between the two has come since their initial cooperation.

With the Paralympics on financially-stable ground, what can we expect in thirty more years?

Paralympics will see more 'ability'

Tennis Canada's national wheelchair tennis coach, Kai Schrameyer, believes that the sport and the overall ability of the athletes will continue to see the biggest evolution. 

Schrameyer, a German silver medallist in wheelchair tennis at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics, has witnessed many changes to wheelchair and prosthetic technology that have helped push athletes even further.

While these changes have likely helped create more global exposure for the Paralympics, Schrameyer believes there could be a downside.

"The Paralympic movement will increasingly attract athletes with 'minimal disabilities' raising the quality of the competition, which inadvertently will lead to more and more athletes with more severe disabilities being pushed out of the Games."

The IPC's vision is "to enable para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world" while also creating conditions for "athlete empowerment." But with a segment of the para-athlete community that may be left out due to the severity of their disability, it remains to be seen how the IPC will ensure opportunities will be given to all types of ability levels.

"The Paralympics will continue to grow," Schrameyer said. "It will follow the Olympic motto of 'faster, higher, stronger.'"

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