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Difference between the Olympics and Paralympics

Difference between the Olympics and Paralympics

Playing sports is an inherent right of an individual, whether one has complete use of his mental and physical faculties or not. Here’s a look at the differences between the Olympic and Paralympic Games – two of the biggest international events in the world of sports.


In ancient times, the Olympic Games took place in Olympia, Greece(1)where these athletic and religious festivals were held every four years. Running events, wrestling, boxing, pankration (a submission sport without the use of weapons, and where biting and gouging out the opponent’s eyes were the only forbidden acts), equestrian events, and a pentathlon were featured in the Ancient Games.(2)When the Games started exactly is still unclear but based on inscriptions that listed the winners of a footrace held every four years, 776 BC(3) is the widely accepted inception date. The modern Olympic Games is considered to have been first organized between 1612 and 1642 by Robert Dover,(4) an English lawyer. The event was called the “Cotswold Olimpick Games” or Costwold Games. (5)

In 1948, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital,(6) sought to organize a sports competition for people with disabilities that is intended to be equivalent to the Olympic Games. The games were originally called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games,(7)where British World War II veteran patients with injuries to the spinal cord competed at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In 1952, the games took place in the same location but apart from the British, Dutch and Israeli veterans also took part, which made the event the first international competition for people with disabilities.(8) Also known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, the early competitions are widely accepted as the forerunners of the Paralympic Games.

Governing Body

The International Olympic Committee or the IOC (9)is the organization that governs everything related to the Olympic Movement, including the selection of the host city, supervision of planning the Olympic Games, change and approval of the sports program, and even the negotiation of sponsorship as well as broadcasting rights. The International Federations (IFs), (10) National Olympic Committees,(11) and Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (12) are the three major elements that make up the Olympic Movement. (13)

The International Paralympics Committee (14)or the IPC is the governing body of the Paralympic Movement worldwide. It is made up of 176 National Paralympic Committees (NPC)(15) and four disability-specific international sports federations. The IPC’s main responsibility is to organize the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games. It also serves as the International Federation for ice sledge hockey, Paralympic athletics, Paralympic biathlon, Paralympic cross-country skiing, Paralympic shooting, Paralympic skiing, Paralympic swimming, Paralympic powerlifting, and Wheelchair DanceSport.


The Olympic rings, which is the symbol of the Olympics, consists of five rings that intertwine. This symbol represents the unity of the five inhabited continents, namely Africa, America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.(16) The rings are blue, yellow, black, green, and red in the colored version, which reflect the colors found in the flags of every nation. While the Olympic flag has already been adopted by 1914, it was only flown for the first time in 1920 during the Summer Olympics in Belgium. The Latin expression, Citius, Altius, Fortius, which means “Faster, Higher, Stronger” is the official motto of the games. (17)

The symbol for the Paralympics contains three asymmetrical crescent shapes in the colors red, blue, and green. (18) (19) Each of the shapes is called an Agito, which in Latin means “I move.” It is especially designed for the Paralympic movement. The Agitos circle a central point, which is a symbolism for athletes converging from all over the globe. The motto of the Paralympic movement is “Spirit in Motion.” (20)


The program of the Olympic Games is composed of 35 sports, 30 disciplines, and 408 events. 26 sports are featured in the Summer Olympics program while 15 sports are included in the Winter Olympics program. (21) The sports played in the Olympic Games are governed by international sports federations (IFs), which the IOC recognizes as the global supervisors of those sports. Whether a sport will be included or excluded in the Olympic program is decided by a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the IOC.

The Summer Paralympic program consists of 22 sports while the Winter Olympics program includes five.(22) Several of the sports are governed by the IPC but the rest are governed by other international organizations, such as international sports federations (IFs), particularly the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS), the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), and the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA), which govern the sports specific to their disability groups.


There is no doubt that the Olympic Games is more popular than the Paralympics. This is evident in the areas of media coverage and, in some cases, funding of athletes.

The Olympics has consistently enjoyed international media coverage since the Summer Olympics of 1984. The Paralympics, on the other hand, has been unable to sustain global media attention except in a handful of other countries, particularly in Europe. In fact, in previous years, broadcasting companies, such as BBC and NBC Sports were criticized for airing too little coverage of the Paralympics. (23) (24)

While both Paralympians and Olympians from Canada, Britain, and several other nations receive virtually equal funding, some Paralympic athletes from the United States team filed a lawsuit against the United States Olympic Committee, which includes the USOC Paralympic Division for the alleged underfunding of American Paralympic athletes. However, a lower court ruled in favor of USOC. The Supreme Court denied the subsequent appeal but in the end, the funding of the Paralympic athletes from the USOC had grown to almost triple. (25) (26)

While the Paralympics have gained ground over the years in promoting the games as well as giving athletes with disabilities the chance to play sports, it still has a long way to go in achieving its goal of being seen as an equal to the Olympic Games. This is partly due to the fact of people’s attitude towards physical as well as mental limitations caused by disabilities.

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