The Paralympic movement has come a long way between the first International Games at Stoke Mandeville, which began 60 years ago today, and the Paralympic Games, which start in Beijing on 6 September.

Developments are constantly being made on and off the playing fields and in the way the events are covered by the media.

Back in 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a neurologist who was working with World War II veterans with spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, began using sport as a vital part of the rehabilitation programmes of his patients. These became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games.

A milestone event took place in July 1948, when Guttmann established a competition for patients with spinal injuries to coincide with the London Olympic Games. Sixteen paralysed British ex-servicemen and women took part in an archery competition.

Since then the "Parallel Olympics" have become the pinnacle of international competition for disabled athletes. The name derives from the Greek "para" ("beside" or "alongside") and refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games - no relation with paralysis or paraplegia was intended.

The first official Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960 and it has grown in strength since then.

At the end of August, the "Test Event" (as the Olympics are known in Paralympic circles) finishes and we can look ahead to the 13th Paralympics.

People often ask why the Paralympics are not scheduled before the Olympics.

Tanni Grey-Thompson was a star of the 2004 Paralympics in Athens

In Athens four years ago and now in Beijing we have seen the answer - the host organisers clearly would have struggled for different reasons to ensure that the Paralympics would be ready in time.

I have been involved with disability sport and the Paralympic movement for many years and each Games creates a tremendous buzz and excitement in the build-up.

My first involvement came many years ago as an international wheelchair table tennis player.

Although ranked in the top three in the country for quite a few years and being able to compete at World and European Championships, selection for GB to participate in the Paralympics just eluded me.

The first time BBC Sport covered the Paralympics in depth was in 1980 when, along with producer Jeff Goddard and the legendary Welsh rugby player and broadcaster Cliff Morgan, I covered the Games in Arnhem.

After that it was time to concentrate on my business career within the BBC working across Drama, Sport, Finance HQ, Documentaries and back to Sport and it was not until Sydney in 2000 when I resumed Paralympic duties.

Although I was not in Sydney, with the time difference, there was a critical role to play in London to ensure that across radio and online our listeners were kept in touch with all the news and action from a tremendous Games for Team GB.

Athens proved to be a successful Paralympics, both in terms of GB medals and the BBC coverage. BBC Sport was later recognised with an award from the International Paralympic Committee as the best international broadcaster from the Games.

That led to me going out to China on behalf of the department to receive the award and experiencing for the first time the culture of China.

British Paralympic legend Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and I spent some time wheeling around the streets of Beijing, and then there weren't many disabled people visible.

It will be interesting to see whether the attitudes of the Chinese people have changed in the past few years and I honestly hope that the real legacy of the Paralympics will see much better access and acceptance of disabled people throughout China.

One of the first benefits of the Games coming to China is improved access to two of the best known historic monuments.

Tourists with a disability from all over the world will now have much better access to Beijing's most famous Forbidden City and parts of the Great Wall following extensive renovations.

As we get nearer to the Games media interest has heightened and a real multimedia approach is driving us forward.

The catalyst this year was back in May with the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, of which BBC Sport transmitted two hours of live coverage.

There has been real interest across all outlets with international stories surrounding South Africans Oscar Pistorius and Natalie Du Toit bringing Paralympic sport to the forefront of the sporting news.

With some prompting, programmes across the BBC are ensuring that they are covering both Olympic and Paralympic stories in unison.

I am sure the Beijing Paralympics will be a successful but very challenging Games for broadcasters, but it is one that we are looking forward to.

Listen to The Parallel Games on BBC Radio 5 Live at 2000 BST on Monday, or for the following seven days on BBC iPlayer.

Tony Garrett is the BBC's disability sport executive. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 8:58pm on 02 Aug 2008, Willow wrote:

    There is such a rich history of the Paralympics it's easy to gloss over some of the trials and tribulations of recent times.
    In 1980 the BBC covered the games from Arnhem and it was this that inspired me to my career as a Paralympian. But the reason the games were in Arnhem instead of Moscow was that the Soviets refused to acknowledge sport for people with disabilities. Then, having condemned the Soviets the US managed to leave 1/2 of the athletes in limbo in 1984 when the 'wheelchair' Olympics was cancelled at short notice leaving the games to be rescued by Stoke Mandeville.
    So it was with much trepidation that we went to Seoul in 1988.
    I remember being met at Kimpo airport by my dad who was working out there at the time. He pushed his way to the front of a crowd that had gathered to greet us and announced to me "I've managed to get a ticket for the opening ceremony; they've gone nuts on it over here." This was the first inkling we had of just how big the games had become.
    I remember as if it were yesterday when we were lined up on the warm up track waiting to go into the stadium for the opening ceremony. You couldn't really hear much more than the traffic going past on the neighbouring highway. Then as we entered the stadium it hit you, 90,000 screaming voices.
    I've done it now 4 times since then and whilst each opening ceremony is special for its own different reason, Seoul for me represented the coming of age of the modern Paralympic Games. Following 8 years of being let down by the world’s super powers, the South Koreans hauled the Paralympic movement into the modern era that we see today.

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  • 2. At 1:10pm on 18 Aug 2008, gsa060 wrote:

    Dear BBC

    Please consider ALL sports fans in your Olympics broadcasts.

    Let e explain. We keep seeing, over and over again, the same story about the Chinese hurdler. He has a injury, he's out of the Olympics, we've heard the story - please drop it now.

    On the other hand. We have a gold medal from the cycling pursuit team yet we've yet to see even one replay. Nothing. It's so disproportionate.

    Four British men win a gold and the repeats are all about a Chinese athlete who's won/done nothing at this Championships.

    I'm not a cyclist but it would have been nice to see a replay of a race where ELEVEN WHOLE SECONDS were taken off the world record.

    The Olympics is about sport, not about things that go wrong. Please replay sporting excellence and PLEASE STOP sensationalising one-off bits of information that is not about sporting excellence.

    G Austin

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  • 3. At 8:28pm on 18 Aug 2008, poppyforall wrote:

    How disappointing not to see even a tiny bit of the Synchronized Swimming today.
    I know the Russians won and we came 14th, but wouldn't it have been lovely to see our girls do just a little bit.

    Like G Austin above, please consider ALL Sports fans not just the chinese who don't make it.

    I have watched any number of events that don't particularly interest me to support our GB Team, so it would have been lovely to see Jenna and Olivia do their bit.

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  • 4. At 11:06pm on 22 Aug 2008, Chris_Page wrote:

    Only when the BBC devotes equal TV coverage to the Paralympics will I believe that the Games are being taken seriously.

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  • 5. At 12:52pm on 01 Sep 2008, markatnicebrook wrote:

    I loved the live online olympics coverage on the BBC Sport website. It more than made up for a rainy summer. For me, it really was the best show on earth.

    But now I want more...

    ...please can we have the same coverage for the paralympics. I will be equally interested and equally captivated by it all, just as long as the coverage is there.

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  • 6. At 10:06pm on 01 Sep 2008, EdTuBrutus wrote:

    The biggest question about the Paralympics is still whether anyone other than the UK takes them seriously.

    By that I mean does any other national broadcaster cover them in any depth other than the BBC?


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  • 7. At 4:45pm on 14 Sep 2008, eatingpaulmark wrote:

    thank you for all the cover of the paralympics i know the other tv chanels have not botherd with it .it is important to some of us to see what can be achieved by pepol with physically and mental disabilitys when you have family and freinds with disabilitys. so thy can see what thy can achieved if thy try hard to over come ther disabilitys. i have seen some of the other coments on the blog and if thy were disabled i think thy would see things in a diffrent light regards
    thaks once again

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