The 33rd Workshop

June 18, 2019
Theme: The Significance of People with Intellectual Disabilities Participating in Sports - The Respective Roles of the Paralympics, INAS, and Special Olympics
Lecturer: Professor Jan Burns (Canterbury Christ Church University, UK)

There are three major international sports organizations for people with intellectual disabilities: the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (INAS), and Special Olympics (SO). Each organization has a different mission: the IPC and INAS focus their activities mainly on competitive sports, while SO conducts sports competitions and tournaments as well as actively engaging in health promotion and educational programs. INAS is often confused with SO, but there are various points of difference between them, such as eligibility for competition (age, for example), sources of funding, and methods for determining classifications.

The definition of intellectual disability often differs from country to country, but the IPC, INAS, and SO all use the definition provided by the World Health Organization (WHO): "an IQ score below 75," "significant limitations in adaptive behavior," and "onset before the age of 18." Many people with intellectual disabilities also have comorbid conditions, and in many cases the onset of intellectual disability can include causes such as genetic factors, chromosomal factors, pregnancy and birth factors, and environmental factors.

Starting with the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games, people with intellectual disabilities began participating in the Paralympic Games, but as a result of the Spanish team's misconduct in the basketball competition during the Sydney Games (2000), INAS was compelled to radically reform their classification system and suspended the participation of people with intellectual disabilities in the Paralympics until the London Games (2012).

Sports has four effects on people with intellectual disabilities. The first is the effect on health. It has been shown that people with intellectual disabilities are in poor health, one reason being that they have fewer opportunities to exercise than people without disabilities, and improved health can be expected from playing sports. The second is a psychological effect. There have been instances where people with disabilities have nurtured self-esteem and acquired social skills by playing sports, which in turn has led to employment. The third is the effect on families. When people with disabilities play sports, their families realize what they can do rather than what they can't, and this connects the whole family with the wider world, giving the family encouragement, which can lead to other effects such as people with disabilities being given the opportunity to act independently. The fourth is the effect on society. This is the change brought about through sports in how people with intellectual disabilities are viewed by those around them.

It is thought that sports for people with intellectual disabilities will become more competitive in the future. The number of competitions will probably also increase. With the support of major companies, SO plans to continue to expand its activities. INAS is considering introducing a classification system that will enable people with more severe intellectual disabilities, autism or Down's syndrome to participate.

Sports for people with intellectual disabilities is an extremely promising field in which more people can become involved in the future, and we can begin with great expectations for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, as well as keep a close watch for outstanding performances by athletes with intellectual disabilities at the Tokyo Games.