The European Sport Model for Inclusion

Currently the European Union has about 80 million persons with disabilities and this is expected to reach 120 million by 2020 (Ecorys, 2018; EU, 2019). About 15% of the world population including the European region are persons with disabilities (EU, 2019; WHO, 2019; World Bank, 2019).

Persons with disabilities are less active and involved in physical activity and sport compared to persons without disabilities (WHO, 2006). Barriers to participation and inclusion are huge and continue to persist despite the slow progress made in the field of sport for people with disabilities in the last 100 years since the first participation of disabled athletes at the Olympic Games (1900, Paris) or with the first World Games for persons with disabilities and the establishment of an International Sports Organization for Persons with Disabilities (1924).

The IOC has 344 members (from 206 countries and 138 sports organizations) and 40 are Olympic, summer and winter sports. The four parallel IOC sports organizations for athletes with disabilities, International Paralympic Committee (IPC), International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD), World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF) and Special Olympics (SO), not including the new organization, Sports Union for athletes with Down Syndrome (SUDS, 2016) that host thee World and Paralympics Games have a total of 659 members, 584 of which number countries (378 more than IOC) and 126 sports (86 more than IOC). The high number of members in the field of sport for people with disabilities is explained by the fact that at national level, organizations are replicated in line with the international organisations. There is also not just one International Sports Federation (like FIFA for football, but several football organizations for amputees, cerebral palsy, deaf, blind, intellectuals (INASFID, SUDS, SO), in a wheelchair, etc.

Despite this large number of non-governmental sports organizations, both Olympic and Paralympic, the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in sport remains very low.

Although the European Commission recognizes the difficulty to establishing a unified model for the organization of sport in Europe, it’s limited to a sports system that is neither supportive nor inclusive for persons with disabilities and other vulnerable populations with few participation opportunities (White Paper on Sport, 2007; Lisbon Treaty, 2009; Developing the European Dimension in Sport, 2011).