Every Commonwealth Games since Manchester hosted in 2002, has had an integrated schedule, meaning that disabled athletes compete in the same stadia and at the same time as their able bodied teammates. Opinion seems split between whether this is a good thing or not for disabled athletes.

The two schools of thought can be outlined very easily. The Paralympics is run as a separate tournament from the Olympics, although many of the same venues and infrastructure is utilised, post adapted. The Commonwealth Games has an integrated schedule where disabled athletes might be on the track mere minutes after able bodied athletes have vacated and vice versa. The essential questions about whether an inclusive schedule is good or bad for disability sport remain to be answered properly.

London still looms large in the public consciousness and it’s going to be one of the challenges of this year’s Commonwealth Games to live up to expectations. The Olympics and Paralympics were separated by 17 days and although they were legally linked together, hence why media often refers to “London 2012” instead of the more accurate but clunky ‘London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ when it came to the sport, they were definitely separate entities.

A great success

The Paralympics were an enormous success; so much so that in some ways it feels like a backward step not to have a separate parasports schedule at the Commonwealth Games, since it’s clear that disability sport has at last become strong enough in the public consciousness to warrant its own tournament. Parasport took centre stage and helped the UK to take the next few steps regarding changing attitudes towards disability issues.

The fact is that parasports are stronger in the UK than in many other places around the world. Whilst it’s true that the London Paralympics was sold out, it is also the case that the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France during July 2013 drew a crowd of just 2,000 people. Less than a week later, on the parasport day of the Sainsbury’s International Challenge (or Anniversary Games), 65,000 people again packed the stadium to watch British para athletes take on (and beat) the world.

The UK is well known as the historic home of parasport and it does seem that the rest of the world has yet to match us in our commitment to it. You don’t have to go too far back in Paralympic history to see footage of Paralympic finals being played out in front of all but empty rows of seats. It’s important therefore, that parasport does not overhype itself but that it grows organically and with the flexibility to adapt to scale where necessary.

Together or apart?

The Commonwealth Games is a case in point. Disabled athletes have only been included in the schedule since another British city, Manchester, hosted the Games in 2002. It’s arguably true that Glasgow could have successfully hosted a separate parasport schedule but there are important pros and cons to consider. On the plus side a separate tournament guarantees that disabled athletes are put centre stage and not lost in the mix of a broader integrated schedule. Certainly a parasport medal final should never be a ‘b-event’ compared with an able bodied final – something a separate schedule prevents.

On the plus side, an integrated schedule means that any live coverage of the Games will almost certainly have to include parasport disciplines. In some countries Paralympic coverage is pretty inadequate. Channel 4 did an exceptional job of broadcasting the London Paralympics in the UK but not every country has such an enlightened broadcaster and parasports could be easily sidelined if it was separated out of the able bodied event.

Every host city of any large sporting event is encouraged to create a legacy that will be sustainable after the sporting carnival has left. An inclusive schedule, assuming it’s put together in a balanced way, would need accessibility built into it. Once the Games have gone, the access and facilities will still be available to disabled people, possibly for years to come. That’s legacy.


The Commonwealth and the wider world is ‘inclusive’ in as much as disabled people don’t all live in one country but are dispersed amongst all nations. Real inclusion is one of the markers that countries should aim for and the Commonwealth Games is right to have some expectation of that standard, rather than expecting disabled people to be satisfied with an ‘also ran’ competition. The Paralympic Games, of course, is not a sideshow; in fact, it has more disciplines than the entire Commonwealth Games schedule. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that for sheer feasibility the Paralympics will have to remain separate (from the Olympics) for the foreseeable future.

What many parasport fans would like to see is a growth in the number of parasport disciplines on the Commonwealth Games schedule. It’s such a shame that para athletes like Ellie Simmonds, cannot compete at a Commonwealth Games because their disciplines are not included in the schedule. To be fair, the same thing could be said about the able bodied schedule – there is no tennis, badminton or the breadth of swimming disciplines to name but a few ‘missing’ disciplines. The reality is that a city smaller than London (such as Glasgow) couldn’t realistically host such a broad tournament.

If the schedule was built up to include all of the sporting disciplines that we would like it to, the field of host cities would diminish considerably. Putting on a gigantic multi-sport tournament is a huge undertaking requiring investment, resources and space. Lots of cities would simply be muscled out of contention and this would deny hosting opportunities and the subsequent legacy to places across the world – where opportunities to learn about disability sports are already comparatively few.

Thinking about tomorrow

For the moment, perhaps the status quo should be preserved. Comparing an Olympic and Paralympic Games with a Commonwealth Games doesn’t make sense – they’re very different. The two systems work within the boundaries of what each tournament represents.

Future challenges are likely to send organisers’ of multi-sport events back to the drawing board. It’s only a matter of time before a disabled sprinter on ‘blades’ runs faster than the Olympic Champion. At that point inclusion is likely to become more pertinent than it ever has been.

In the meantime the world needs to catch a dose of para sport mania – let’s get them to take notice by cheering extra loud for the para athletes in Glasgow.