Future paralympic sport: from equal to equivalent and inclusive

The position of Paralympic sport should be just as mature and robust as that of Olympic sport. At present, the position of Paralympic sport is on parity with Olympic sport, but it should become fully equivalent. This could eventually lead to inclusive elite sport for people with and without disabilities. The Netherlands Sports Council recommends that the Dutch Minister for Sport take a leading role and take steps to make the Netherlands a model for other countries. The advice ‘Equivalent and inclusive – advice on the continued development of paralympic sport’ is published at March 31st. The Netherlands Sports Council has used the prospect of an inclusive society as the goal on the horizon to guide this advice. In an inclusive society, people with a disability are not excluded from any avenue in life and feel that they are a fully-fledged part of society – on all fronts. In that light, the Council sees the inclusion of grassroots sports, elite sports and sports events for people both with and without disabilities as the ultimate objective.

Equivalence as the principal focus

Before that objective can be achieved, however, the first priority is to work towards achieving an equivalent position for Paralympic sport. In its analysis, the Netherlands Sports Council has established that, in the Netherlands, Paralympic sport largely has access to similar facilities to those of Olympic sport. However, equal is not the same as equivalent. Equivalence means that specific facilities and provisions are available where necessary. The current lack of equivalence, for example, is manifested in the partially invisible funding streams for Paralympic sport. Other examples include the limited extent to which Paralympic sport is integrated in regular sporting events and the absence of media coverage outside of the Paralympic Games. As a result, there is a lack of broader public interest in Paralympic sport.

Professionalisation of classification

Some topics in the advice are more related to international development than others. Classification is one of those subjects. The Netherlands Sports Council Classification notes classification in Paralympic sports raises many questions, due to the disorganised nature of classification and limited funding. Investment is required both at national and international level to professionalise classification. The recommendation of the Netherlands Sports Council is to set up a centralised support hub in the Netherlands for this. In addition, the Council recommends that the Minister for Sport work alongside the NOC*NSF and the major sports federations to push for further professionalisation of classification at international level and the funding thereof. This endeavour also requires an international support hub. The Netherlands Sports Council recognises that innovation is taking place within various sports to allow Paralympic athletes with varying degrees of impairment to compete with one another. The nature of a sport determines what is feasible, and it is vital that sports are open to alternative methods or rules.

The Netherlands as an international model country

The Netherlands has a great deal of knowledge to offer that is of value to Paralympic sport. In addition, it has the capacity and knowledge infrastructure to impel innovation further. The Netherlands Sports Council believes that the Netherlands should use its position as an innovation leader to support other countries. For that reason, the Netherlands Sports Council recommends that the Minister of Foreign Affairs work alongside NOC*NSF to reflect on how Dutch citizens can take up more international positions in the domain of Paralympic sport. In addition, the Netherlands Sports Council recommends that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with the Minister for Sport, make bilateral agreements with countries where sport for people with disabilities is still in its infancy.

Structural investments required

Structural investment is needed to further develop Paralympic sport to ensure the transition from equality to equivalence and eventually integrated competition. This includes more resources for the professionalisation of classification, equivalent support for current and up-and-coming Paralympic athletes and the promotion and stimulation of Paralympic sports in elite sporting events. It should be noted that this relates to additional funds, meaning that the funds must not be allocated at the expense of existing funding in elite sport.