Ukraine women’s goalball team. May 2015 (Photo: WikiCommons).
Ukraine women’s goalball team. May 2015 (Photo: WikiCommons).

A plea for inclusion

How does the message of inclusion of the Paralympics work in practice?

Ralitsa Angelova
Ralitsa Angelova FMH contributor

Goalball appeared on the sport arena in 1946, but it was only included at the Paralympic games in Toronto in 1976. What is this sport about, and how can discussing the history of this game help students grasp issues around inclusion in the present?

Who can play goalball?

Not all people with visual disabilities can participate. There are certain conditions that should be met. To qualify to play goalball one needs to have a certain category of visual impairment. There are four categories: B1, B2, B3 and B4. And only those who are categorized with B1, B2 and B3 severity can play goalball professionally. The line between B3 and B4 is blurred, and people who get a B4 severity cannot play professional goalball. Karina Lang, who was playing professional goalball, was supposed to play at the Paralympics but was barred from playing because she was categorized with a B4 visual impairment. She could have a new check in two years, but this does not change the situation.

Professional gaps

Far less people watch the Paralympics compared to the Olympic games. Paralympic and Olympic athletes receive less media attention in their own countries. How does the difference in recognition impact the sport?

A few days after the Paralympics, on 12 September 2021, Hristiyan Stoyanov from Bulgaria lamented the deplorable situation of the Bulgarian Paralympic athletes. The silver medallist wrote:

I was never thinking about sport as a means to earn money. I have never competed with the thought that I will win something. Sport is emotion, sport is freedom, sport is above everything else in my life, and at this moment when I stop to perceive it in this way – that means that my place is no longer in sports […] But on the path to the heights I have encountered many times injustice, when I met dishonest people, and when Paralympic athletes were neglected and discriminated. […]

After a conversation with the ministry of sport and youth we were again denied a change in the funding of the Paralympians. Funding for Olympic training is about three times less for Paralympians than for Olympians.

Plea for Inclusion

Every four years, an opportunity arises to draw attention to inclusion. Recently, at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics games Andrew Parsons proclaimed that

The Paralympic Games are for sure a platform for change. But only every four years is not enough. It is up to each and every one of us to play our part, every day, to make for a more inclusive society in our countries, in our cities, in our communities… Difference is a strength, not a weakness and as we build back better, the post-pandemic world must feature societies where opportunities exist for all.

Paralympians! You gave your all to be here. Blood, sweat and tears. Now is your moment to show the world your skill, your strength, your determination. If the world has ever labelled you, now is your time to be relabelled: champion, hero, friend, colleague, role model, or just human. You are the best of humanity and the only ones who can decide who and what you are.

Your performances could change the fortunes of your lives. But most importantly they will change the lives of 1.2 billion forever. This is the power of sport, to transform lives and communities. Change starts with sport. And from tomorrow on, Paralympic athletes start once again to change to world.

Despite the role of the Paralympics to create social cohesion and inclusion, this goal seems far away. The Paralympic athletes are different from the ordinary athletes. Not only because they have a disability but also because the public perceives them differently. There is not just difference in the performance because we are unable to measure the difficulty of their performances since they perform under different circumstances, but media coverage is also rather limited.

Thinking Points

History teachers and educators can ask meaningful questions to their students. What could be done to increase public appreciation of the Paralympics? What is the role of financial instruments? What could the world of football do to stimulate goalball?

Find out more

To find out more about goalball at the Paralympics on the Paralympic website. To read about the founder of goalball and spread of goalball read it online on Football Makes History.

You can read more about the Paralympic athletes’ struggle for equality

You can read here about the evolution of the Paralympic games.

You can read here about Olympic and Paralympic prize inequalities.

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Ukraine women’s goalball team. May 2015 (Photo: WikiCommons).
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