More than 1,500 paragliders will take part in the European Paragliding Championships during these two weeks. What do they have in common when it comes to sports participation for people with disabilities in their country? And how is sports arranged for them in their country? It has not been searched for for a long time. Until this year, when three researchers from the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom pooled data from nineteen countries in Europe.
Main findings from this Palgrave Handbook of Disability Sport in Europe? The participation of people with disabilities in sports and exercise is still much lower than that of people without disabilities – about half. The more severe the disability, the less active people are. Demographic attitudes also play a role: older people, people with less education, people with lower incomes, and women are less likely to participate in sports.
Lack of concern for people with disabilities.
At first glance, the conclusions are not surprising, admits Caroline Van Lindert in Ahoy, where she was present as a spectator. She is a researcher at the Mueller Institute and one of the authors. What is remarkable, however, is that the study covers many countries. Van Lindert: “There is very little data on the participation of people with disabilities in sports. So you can’t do a comparison to see which country has done well or less well. Why? I think it’s because of a lack of attention to people with disabilities.”
For example, the widely used Eurobarometer, a questionnaire distributed across Europe, contains only one reference to disabled sport. Not even as a separate question, but as a possible answer. The question is what are the reasons for less exercise. One category of answers is that this is because the respondent has a disability.
The new research is about more than just high-profile Paralympic sport, says Van Lindert, shortly after she dropped out of the interview in the Spain-Germany stretch of wheelchair basketball. It is about sport in a broad sense, while also paying attention to its role for people with disabilities in education or in health care.
Not at your regular gym
The Netherlands, like Norway, is well on its way to integrating sports for people with disabilities. “Before, sports for the disabled were in charge of ordinary sports associations. Now there is a sports convention, one of the pillars of which is inclusive sport and aerobics.
But not every country is like the Netherlands or Norway. A distinction can be made between, for example, the Scandinavian countries and countries in Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, people with disabilities have comparatively fewer opportunities to participate in sporting activities than in a ‘normal’ sports club. A disabled person who wants to practice taekwondo, for example, has to go to a disability club, rather than a local taekwondo club.
Van Lindert says Iceland also falls into this “category.” But when I gave a presentation at the European Paralympic Committee meeting last week, the Icelandic delegation was quick to say that they are really working on integrating sport for people with disabilities. Van Lindert: “Governments are increasingly aware of the importance of inclusion. Words and intentions are good. But then it is also about implementation in policy and regulation.”
In this way, the research can provide a counterpoint to countries that want to integrate sports for people with disabilities into regular sports. Van Lindert is already asking some questions: “What about parity between the Paralympic and Olympic variant? Do you want to become part of the Olympic organization as a Paralympic organization? Is that equally possible or will you be eaten?”
The hope is that, due to research at the European level, sport for people with disabilities will be included more in surveys such as the Eurobarometer or in national studies. Anyway, this week’s European Paragliding Championships is a way to get people from the outside in parachuting. Van Lindert: “An event like this has value. People can see the high level they are doing and the social value these sports have.”
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