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The Genesis of Olympism and Paralympism

It took more than fifteen centuries to recover the heritage and legacy of the Olympic Games of Classical Antiquity with the first Olympic Games of the Modern Age, which took place from 6 to 15 April 1896 in Greece, in Athens under the initiative of Baron Pierre de Frédy de Coubertin. The holding of these Games led to the organization of the Olympic Movement with the foundation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on 23 June 1894, which boosted the formation of the future international sports organizations.

The constitution of the Internationals Sports Federations (Ifs) predated the founding of the IOC, such as the Gymnastic (International Gymnastics Federation – FIG) in 1811 and in 1892 of the Rowing (Fédération Internationale des Sociétes d’Aviron – FISA) and skating.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) wasn’t only inspired by the Olympic Games of Classical Antiquity but also influenced by the thoughts of educator Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), who was the director of the Rugby School (1828-1841) in England and, consequently, of the other thinkers and currents that were in the genesis of Physical Education and Sport, with hygienist, military, educational and therapeutic purposes such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (Switzerland, 1746-1827), Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (Germany, 1778-1852), Pehr Henrik Ling (Sweden, 1776-1839), Francisco Amorós y Ondeando (Spain, 1770-1848). In this line and inspired by Pierre de Coubertin, followed Sir Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980), who was considered the “Coubertin of the Disabled People”, by Pope John XXIII.

The genesis and the evolution of the sports movement in general and, in particular, the Olympic movement derives mainly from Europe, during the period of the industrial revolution, which was considered as one of the factors for the promotion and development of sport, especially leisure sport.

The truth is that persons with disabilities were not totally included in this process, but in time, they active participated in three big areas:

  1. At the Olympic Games;
  2. In the major trends in physical education and sport;
  3. In Sports Clubs, whether conventional or regular for persons with disabilities.




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IOC records show the participation of athletes with disabilities in the Olympic Games, namely from the second edition that took place in 1900 in Paris (Ewry, 1900, 1904 and 1908) until the last and XXXI edition that took place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro 2016, namely Sandra Paovic (table tennis), Melissa Tapper (table tennis), David Smith (volleyball).

i – Ray Ewry (Athletics, 1900, 1904 and 1908), American athlete, born on 14-10-1873. Contracted polio (still young) which confined him to a wheelchair but through physical exercise and sport, was able to participate in and win Olympic gold medals at the 1908 Games in London (2 gold medals), 1904 in St. Louis (3 gold medals) and in 1900 in Paris, where he debuted with three gold medals, in long jump, triple jump and high jump.

ii – George Eyser (Gymnastics, 1904) American citizen, won six medals at the St. Louis Olympic Games in 1904 in gymnastics (three gold, two silver and one bronze medal). He had a unilateral lower limb amputation and competed with a wooden prosthesis.



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The prescription of physical exercise for therapeutic purposes (to prevent and treat disease) has a long history, notably through the Indian physician Susruta who lived 600 b.C. (Tripton, 2008), with previous the contributions from Greece and Rome from Hippocrates of Cos, Galeno, Avicena, Maimônides, as detailed by Gutmann (Gutmann, 1976) in his history of Sport and Medicine.

Pehr Henrik Ling (1776-1839) who was one of the forerunners of the great trends that were the genesis of physical education and sport, was the origin of corrective, therapeutic and adapted exercises, being one of the authors that originated the terminology Adapted Physical Activity (Hutzler & Sherrill, 2007).



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There are references to the existence of sports clubs for persons with disabilities since the establishment in Europe of the first conventional clubs, namely the “Sport Club for the disabled for the Deaf” in Berlin in 1888 (Deaf, Berlin, 1888).

This is the scene that, according to Gutmann, influenced the creation of the sports movement for persons with disabilities, most of whom felt rejected and discriminated against, but who wanted to create a parallel system (Guttmann, 1976; The Cord, 1949, 3, 24).



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In order to better understand the genesis and evolution of the Organized Sport Structure Model for persons with disabilities, we should start by analysing the conventional sport model, which is now called the European Sport Model. Establishing a comparative analysis, we can identify similarities and differences.



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In general, in European countries, a “pyramidal structure” was adopted as the Sports Model which uses one of the faces of a triangle, with a broad base showing the result and one of them, on top, by one vertex.

The adopted model of the pyramidal structure is applicable, for example, in terms of international structure, countries and geographical regions (called continental regions or just Regions).

Sports rules and regulations (in the same way as competitions) structured from the bottom up, whatever the geographical dimension, that is, the regional, national or international level.

The sports development processes (same in individuals and collective competitions) are reflected in the training process of athletes, from the basic sport (grassroots, sport for all) to the elite or high-performance sport that culminates in the top of the pyramid and translate into medals on the world sports scene.

Figure 1 – Graphical representation of the pyramidal structure of the Sport

  • The organic structure;
  • The rules and regulations;
  • Sport events or competitions;


  • The development of a sport modality;
  • The construction of the development and sports form of an athlete, whether in an individual or collective mode.


The European Union regards the White Paper on Sport as the first policy document of the European Commission referring to the “European Sport Model” (2017, p.12) under “The Organization of Sport”. This document also addresses the topics “the societal role of sport” and “the economic dimension of sport”.

The importance that the European Commission has given to this policy document is reinforced in the fourth paragraph of point 1 of the introduction (introduction, p.2) which mentions the “specificities” of the sport sector as follows: initiative marks the first time that the commission is addressing sport-related issues in a comprehensive manner.

Its overall objective is to give strategic orientation to the role of sport in Europe, to encourage debate on specific problems, to enhance the visibility of sport in EU policy-making and to raise public awareness of the needs and specificities of the sector. The initiative aims to illustrate important issues such as the application of EU law to sport. It also seeks to set out further sports-related action at EU level.”

With the 2009 Lisbon Treaty which introduces a specific article on sport (Art.º 165 TFEU), the EU gives direct and legal competences in the field of sport.

Other policy interventions and instruments from the European Commission took place in 2011, such as “Developing the European Dimension of Sport” (the social role of sport; the economic dimension of sport; the organization of sport), the EU Work Plan for Sport 2011-2014 which further strengthened European cooperation on sport by setting priorities for EU-level work involving the EU Member States and the Commission. Furthermore, there is the Eurobarometer of Physical Activity and Sport (the 2017 publication was launched in March 2018, the previous ones were in 2013, 2009 and 2002) and the 2012 Health-enhancing Physical Activity (HEPA).



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The specificity of sport in the White Paper on Sport on Sport (p.14) addresses the principle of a single federation of sport, while ensuring the diversity of sport organizations as well as the autonomy, specificity and organization of sport on a national base. These principals extend to disability specific sports, such as boccia, goalball, etc.



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The Sports Universe is pyramidally structured in three levels, as the apex are the international bodies that oversee world sport, in the intermediate level are the organizations by geographic regions and at the base, are the national sports organization, by country. Countries have generally adopted the pyramidal structure at three levels, depending on the political and sports system as well as the political administrative division of each country. The national sports organization is structured at local level, by a regional structure or several, and at the apex the entities that supervise the national sport, depending on whether they are Governmental, Semi governmental and Non-Governmental organizations, or public or private;



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In the rules, the point 4.1. refers to the specificity of sport highlights (the particularities of sporting rules), in particular as regards to the rules on sporting categories, such as separate competitions for men and women, which also take place by age and body weight (weightlifting and combat sports are examples). By this line of reasoning “eligibility and sports classification” in disability, by type of disability and by level of functionality should be included as a necessity and specificity for competition.



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Section 4.1 on the specificity of sport approaches the events, how the competitions are pyramidally structured (from basic to high-performance sports), the need to ensure uncertain results, to respect sports standards, without infringing the community competition rules;



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We referred above to the organic structure, to the need to guarantee the freedom, autonomy and diversity of sports organizations, provided that the principle of a single federation by sport is safeguarded;



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As a foundation for the specificity of sport, the socio-economic and economic benefits of sport, the social role in health, education, culture, social inclusion and the promotion of sports values and ethics are reinforced. Further, more than the importance of a sport as a vehicle and instrument, the essence and purpose of a sports policy in terms of development ranging from grassroots sports, sports for all to high performance sports is emphasized, which include the Olympians and Paralympics. It becomes crucial in terms of a National Sport Strategy and Plan to define what a citizen’s sporting path should be in society throughout their life cycle, regardless of whether the disability is congenital or acquired and what should be the sports training and development model which will have implications in several areas, from the training of human resources of sport to programs for the promotion and development of sports.

The right and freedom to practice sports and associations (through clubs) are reinforced by Articles 6 and 165 TFEU of the Treaty of Lisbon.

The Union recognizes (point 1, Article 6 TFEU) the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on 7 December 2000, was adapted on 12 December 2000 in Strasbourg and which has the same legal value as the Treaties. Under no circumstances can the Charter extend the Union’s competences as defined in the Treaties.

The rights, freedoms and principles enshrined in the Charter shall be interpreted in accordance with the general provisions of Title VII of the Charter governing its interpretation and application and taking due account of the notations to which, the Charter refers, indicating the sources of those provisions.

The Union (point 2, Article 6 TFEU) accedes to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession does not alter the Union’s competences as defined in the Treaties.

Union law (point 3, Article 6 TFEU) includes as general principles fundamental rights as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from common constitutional traditions of Member States.

Article 6 is line with the concepts adopted in the United Nations system with regard to both the United Nations Charter (1945), where “… primary importance is attached to the reaffirmation of principles of peace, faith in the human rights and fundamental freedoms, dignity and value of the human person and the promotion of social justice.”

The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reaffirms the “… right of all persons without any discrimination…” (1948).

Although world sports policy and, in particular, the European Union is very concerned with promoting the above values and developing sport as a generator of quality of life and driving the economy of the Member States, it is certain that the consequences of inactivity are due to various barriers or obstacles that limit or prevent transposition of physical education and sport into social practices as a fundamental human right, as expressed in the UNESCO International Charter for Physical Education and Sport (2015).



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The nature and organized structure of sport is dependent on both the typology of sports organizations and the geographical dimension of their organizational structure.

Typology of Sports Organizations

There are three typologies of the international organizations of conventional and federated sport, which will condition the structuring of sport at the level of the five regions (Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania) and by country. These are the Olympic, Confederate and International Sports Federations.

Olympic – whose organization is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) oversees the Olympic Movement, which is structured across 5 regions and by country through the National Olympic Committee (NOC). The main sporting events for which IOC is responsible are: Summer Games, Winter Games, Youth Games and Beach Games.



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IOC’s Vision and Mission is not sport for persons with disabilities. The situation of including sport for persons with disabilities in IOC has been as follows:

  1. Athletes – the participation of athletes with disabilities in the Olympic Games has been punctually recorded since the second edition of the Summer Olympics, in 1900 in Paris;
  2. Sports – There are no specific Olympic sports for athletes with disabilities;
  3. Sports Events – There are no tests for athletes with disabilities in the Summer Games Program, Winter Games, Youth Games and Beach Games. In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the first demonstration events at the Olympic Games were held with demonstration events for blind athletes and wheelchair athletes;
  4. IF’S – International Sports Federations – there are no specific Olympic sport IFs intended for disabled athletes from the 42 Olympic Federations that are part of the IOC, 29 of which are summer and 13 winter sports;
  5. National Olympic Committee – the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (2007) and recently in June 2019 the constitution of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee represents examples of national structures that include the organization Olympic and Paralympic Games. The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) is another example of the macro-sport nongovernmental institution representing all national sports organisations. The 206 NOCs are distributed 55 by the Region of Africa, 40 by the Region of America, 45 by the Asia Region, 49 by the Europe Region and 17 by the Oceania Region;
  6. NOC Associations – do not represent sports organizations for persons with disabilities. The regional structures of the IOC are: the Association of National Olympic Committees (ACNO/ANOC), the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ACNOA/ANOCA), the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), the European Olympic Committees (COE)/ (EOC), the Pan-American Sports Organisation (ODEPA/PASO), the Sudamericana Sports Organization (ODESUR), the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) and the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (ODECABE):
  7. Recognised Organisations – In the category the four world organizations of Paralympic Movements are recognized, namely: International Paralympic Committee (IPC – Paralympics), International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD – Deaflympics), World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF – Transplant) and Special Olympics.

Sports Confederation – SportAccord is the entity that brings together the International Sports Federations (IF’s) that are structured and organized as follows: Association of Summer Olympic International Federation (ASOIF), Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federation (AIOWF), Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF), Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport (AIMS), Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) and Associated Members.



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The inclusion of sport for persons with disabilities in SportAccord is similar to that of IOC.

International Sports Federations (IFs) – are the following:

  • Association of Summer Olympic International Federation (ASOIF) – 28 IFs.
  • Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federation (AIOWF) – 7 IFs.
  • Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF) – 41 IFs.
  • Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport (AIMS) – 18 IFs
  • Associated Members – 20 IFs (CGF – Commonwealth Games Federation; IMSC – International Military Sports Council; IPC – International Paralympic Committee; ISF – International School Sport Federation; SO – Special Olympics; ICSD – International Committee Sports for the Deaf; CSIT – International Workers and Amateurs in Sports Confederation;
  • Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) has a total of 114 members with the exception of WTGF – World Transplant Games Federation, which is not a member. The remaining three Paralympic Movements are the IPC – International Paralympic Committee, the SO – Special Olympics and the ICSD – International Committee Sports for the Deaf.




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We will approach the structure of sport according to the geographical dimension of the three types of sport organizations, using Table 2 to illustrate, in the left column the 3 levels of geographic dimension and, in the right column, the example of a sport, which is football at national, European region and world level.

The left column identifies the three levels of geographic size, by country at the base, by region at intermediate level, and at the vertex (top), international or world level.

In the right column, when it comes to football, it will be structured by country represented by the National Football Federation, UEFA Union European Football Associations – in the Europe Region and FIFA – Federation International Football Association, worldwide.

Since football is an Olympic modality, which is part of the Official Summer Olympics Program, it is properly articulated within the three levels of the Olympic structure, i.e. by country with the NOCs, with the EOC of the European Region and, at the top, with the IOC. The national structure, i.e. by country, will be from the Club at the local level, followed by intermediate structures, with the national structure at the top, depending on the political system and the political-administrative division.

This could give rise to a Sports Federation or Confederation.



Table 2

INTERMEDIATE By regions (5) Africa, America, Asia, Europe, Oceania INTERMEDIATE
By regions (5)
(Europe) UEFA
NATIONAL By Country NATIONAL By Country (National level) Federation Associations Sports Clubs

The participative course of an Olympic athlete in the international sports scene would be their participation in competitions in their respective country, from the base to the local level, through the intermediate to the national level. Then, internationally, it would involve participating at the level of their geographic region, finally reaching world and Olympic events.