The Paralympics are one of the world’s largest multi-sport events involving athletes with physical, visual or mental disability (only athletics, swimming and table tennis).

The Paralympics always take place after the Olympics in the same venues. Competitions in 22 summer sports and 5 winter sports are held at the Paralympics.

At the Paralympics in RIO in 2016 4,316 athletes (2,647 women und 1,669 men) took part. At the Paralympic Winter Games in SOCHI in 2014 547 Athletes (129 women and 418 male) competed.

The summer and winter Paralympic Games are organised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement.

The IPC additionally acts as the International Federation for nine disciplines (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, athletics, powerlifting, shooting, swimming and wheelchair dance sport). All other sports have been included in their respective International Federations in the last years.

Athletes with physical impairment may have for example the subsequent impairments:

  • Icon PARA
    Athletes with paraplegia: Paraplegia is a type of impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities.
    © Wikipedia
  • Icon TETRA
    Athletes with tetraplegia: Paraplegia is a type of impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower and upper extremities.
    © Wikipedia
  • Icon CP
    Athletes with cerebral palsy: Cerebral Palsy is a group of permanent movement disorders. Symptoms include poor coordination, stiff and weak muslces and tremors. It is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture.
    © Wikipedia
  • Icon LEGIcon ARM
    Athletes with a loss of limb or limb deficiency: There is total or partial absence of bones or joints as a consequence of amputation, due to illness or trauma or congenital limb defiency (e.g. dysmelia).
    © IPC
    Impaired passive range of movement: Range of movement in one or more joint is reduced in a systematic way. Acute conditions such as arthritis are not included.
    © IPC
    Athletes with leg-length difference: Significant bone shortening occurs in one leg due to congenital deficiency or trauma.
    © IPC
    Short stature: Standing height is reduced due to shortened legs, arms and trunk, which are due to a musculoskeletal deficit of bone or cartilage structure.
    © IPC
Visual impairment occurs when one or more of the components of the vision system are damaged. This can include impairment of the eye structure/receptor, of the optic nerve/optic pathways and/or of the visual cortex. Athletes are usually categorized depending on the degree of vision defined by visual acuity and visual field resulting in three classes.

  • Icon B1 blind Icon B1
    B1 – blind: Minimal to no light sense in both eyes
  • Icon B2 limited sight Icon B2
    B2 – limited sight: Remaining vision maximum 3,3% and /or restricted visual field of less than 5 degrees
  • Icon B3 more sight Icon B3
    B3 – more sight: Remaining vision maximum 10% and /or restricted visual field of less than 5 degree.

© Allianz

The World Health Organization defines mental disability as a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information and to learn and apply new skills (impaired intelligence). This results in a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning), and begins before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

At the Paralympics athletes with a mental impairment compete only in three disciplines athletics, swimming and table tennis.

Deaf athletes don’t participate at the Paralympics due to organizational and historical reasons. They have their own Games called the “Deaflympics”, which are organized by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (Comité International des Sports des Sourds – CISS).



To ensure that competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.

This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairments on the sport performance.

Through classification athletes are grouped together in so called “sport classes” depending on how much their impairment impacts performance in their sport. Therefore a sport class is not necessarily comprised of one impairment type alone, but can be comprised of athletes with different impairments. However, these different impairments affect sport performance to a similar extent. Since different sports require different abilities, each sport logically requires its own classification system.

A sport class is allocated through athlete evaluation by classifiers. Classifiers have completed a special training and are certified to conduct classification. Classification takes place before competition. Depending on the impairment an athlete might undergo classification several times throughout his or her career. Some impairments change over time e.g. visual acuity might decrease over time.