Getting bigger: A view from the World Dwarf Games

British team at opening ceremony of World Dwarf Games

The sixth World Dwarf Games is taking place in the US state of Michigan. Simon Minty - who has restricted growth - has travelled 4,000 miles to attend.

If you spend most of your life surrounded by people who are two feet taller than you, then a week in the company of people who are the same height can be both exhilarating and daunting.

This is my first time at the World Dwarf Games and I wasn't at all sure what I'd think of it.

With nearly 400 athletes from 17 nations competing, it's the largest sporting event in history exclusively for athletes with dwarfism.

I have restricted growth (or dwarfism) and stand at just under four feet (117cm) tall.

About the author

Simon Minty

Simon is the co-founder of disability comedy show Abnormally Funny People. A flimsy excuse will see him pack a suitcase and travel...

People of restricted growth are not all of the same size or physical ability and so, as in the Paralympics, athletes here are classified in terms of ability. There are three classifications and I'm somewhere in the mid-range - it's a rare and peculiar sensation to know that here I'm officially average.

Dwarfism is pretty loosely defined. Roughly speaking, if you are equal to, or under four feet 10 inches (147cm) and have a physical condition to accompany your smaller size, then you're probably in.

There are about 200 different types of dwarfism, and some are unique to the individual.

And it's not as if we're all the same height. People with dystrophic dwarfism, for instance, can be a foot taller (30 cm) than another. Even as someone with dwarfism, it's visibly arresting to see one athlete competing against another who is twice their height.

Swimmers in competition at the World Dwarf Games

Here at the Games you can see, or compete in, more than 20 events. One of my favourites is the physically demanding basketball. It's played at a furious pace and the hoop remains - challengingly - at the standard height.

There's swimming, track and field, through to the more sedentary yet strategic boccia - a cross between lawn bowls and boules that you may have glimpsed at London 2012.

I confess I'm not competing, I'm here just as a supporter although I have been politely told by some that I have no excuse, because there is a big choice of events for differing abilities. Something for me to consider for the next games in 2017 then.

Simon Minty Simon Minty contemplates entering the 2017 games

The first competitive games for athletes with dwarfism started right here at the Michigan State University campus back in 1985. Back then it was as part of a wider disability games for those with cerebral palsy and those known as "les autres" (French for "the others") - a non-specific category you sometimes see in disability sport. It suggests we don't quite fit in anywhere else.

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Not having to explain anything, nor have strangers gawp at you, is like having a week off from real life”

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Things have moved on since then. The International Dwarf Athletic Federation was created in 1993 and dwarf athletes are part of the Paralympics. This has helped create stars like Great Britain's gold medal-winning swimmer Ellie Simmonds.

What is fantastic is seeing so many babies and youngsters with dwarfism here. At the opening ceremony it was remarked that the next generation of people with dwarfism will take it for granted that they can play sport and find a place to compete.

The primary purpose of the games is about sporting competition on a level playing field. But there's no doubt there are powerful secondary benefits. Apart from keeping people fit, when the tracksuit comes off there's a chance to meet and just "be".

Team GB playing football at the World Dwarf Games

It's great to speak with others at the same eye level. People whom you can naturally pat on the back in sympathy or throw your arms around in celebration. Not having to explain anything, nor have strangers gawp at you, is like having a week off from real life.

Common types of dwarfism

There are 200 conditions which can cause restricted growth. Among the most common are:

  • Achondroplasia - those affected have an average sized trunk and short arms and legs due to abnormal cartilage formation; occurs in approximately 1 in 26,000 births.
  • Hypochondroplasia - a milder form of achondroplasia, caused by disturbances in bone growth. Occurs in between one in 10- 40,000 births
  • Pseudochondroplasia occurs in one in 30.000 births; a faulty gene stops cartilage from developing correctly and turning to bone
  • Diastrophic Dysplasia - features of the condition include short arms and legs, a small chest, clubbed feet and a cleft palate (33%); occurs in one in 110,000 births

It's not all fluffy warm stuff though. There is serious competition. There are dedicated athletes who train very hard, make sacrifices, have to find sponsorship money, and travel great distances to get the chance to compete amongst peers. Many compete in multiple events.

Men's football, or soccer as it's called here, is perhaps the most keenly contested and talked about event at the games. Team GB are the current champs - they won gold at the last Games in Belfast 2009.

Team USA, not to mention Team Australia and Team Europe, want that to change. Different height, yes, but it's the same rivalries.

In one football match earlier this week, I saw two players collide when going for the ball. One of them was knocked off his feet. Before he hit the ground the opposing player stretched out his arm and caught him.

It was unusual behaviour in competitive sport and it felt like it really was the taking part that was most important.

But while watching later football heats I changed my mind. Team USA scored against Team GB and I felt an immediate ache in my stomach.

Feeling sick that my country's team had conceded a goal, I realised I'm hooked, and that for many reasons, these games really do matter.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    .Ok, so I read the article, made a comment or two, but now we need some meatier subjects to comment on.

    This subject has been open for 11 hours now, and attracted just 100 posts.

    Come on HYS, this is my lunchtime wasting - if you're not careful, I might have to step outside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    What a wonderful Games and I would love to have been able to follow it more closely by some coverage on the BBC. Anyone who trains hard and long and represents his or her country, whichever that is, is worthy of praise. Now that folks are enthusiastic about the Paralympics, lets see if we can get the same enjoyment for everyone out of these games by covering them better. Well done everyone!

  • Comment number 117.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Hanging the flag upside down or putting a stamp upside down on a letter can be considered to be a criminal offence. That is if these things were not urban myths.
    The truth of us is that I read this article because I am interested in it and couldn't care which way way round they wave the flag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    @101 "If you are going to represent our country, then the least you can do is get our flag the right way up"

    Don't complain, your lucky to see the flag at all these days. A friend had one on top of her mini cooper, got "EDL Scum!!" gouged into the side of it when parked in Birmingham's Bullring parking. So like I say, don't complain......

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    @ 108.Lightmare

    Wow... feel better now? Listen carefully... It's a nice article in an appropriate section about an event that doesn't affect you. Not everything has to affect you. You don't have to read every article. You don't have to comment on every topic. We'll survive.

    Try that and maybe your blood pressure will recover. Maybe...

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    interesting how the bbc can make a comment such as a dwarf games getting bigger, but if I suggest a popular olumpic sport like table tennis with another minority and suddenly my comment is removed as it may offend.

    and why is phil collins in the second picture?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    What time do the HYS BBC team start work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Another thought about the World 'Dwarf' Games is that it sidesteps the pc versions of shortness. One of the problems with pc is that it always seems to ignore our culture. The culture of 'dwarf' people is embedded deep in European history, from the silver mines of Saxony onwards and it seems to me that this is being whitewashed away when if fact it should be celebrated and even funded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    4 Minutes ago
    I think that Simon Minty gives us a good article, but it begs for another. For example, the basketball goals are full height,


    Have a link on me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Good oh, a minority group having fun. Roll on the day when it isnt just trendy minorities making the news though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Expect this to be reported in blanket wall to wall coverage on the BBC sports pages soon, in the same way as women's football is given ridiculous levels of coverage in relation to the handful of people who care. The BBC's commitment to unabashedly trumpeting trumpeting minority activities as the greatest thing ever, loved by all, continues apace. Might as well be the Guardian online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Are there any height limits? I only ask as I wonder if there might be mild cases of (say) Achondroplasia so you might have someone who suffered from the syndrom but wasn't THAT small.

    I mean, who IS the world's tallest dwarf?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    If you are going to represent our country, then the least you can do is get our flag the right way up :-(

    So it's not about inclusion, participation or athletic ability, but based on one’s ability to hold a flag? You really are dredging the barrel of pessimism and misery if this is the only comment you can make!

  • Comment number 105.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I think that Simon Minty gives us a good article, but it begs for another. For example, the basketball goals are full height, this seems illogical but does it also apply to all the other items such as soccer goals? Also are the swimming/running lengths the same, as the distances would be proportionately longer for these competitors.

  • Comment number 103.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    You go and do you best at the games. More brit wins?

    Why the winging. More people being active and competing. Most of the population is scared of being shown up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    If you are going to represent our country, then the least you can do is get our flag the right way up :-( "Wide white top and broad side up" which means the wide white stripe should be at the top nearest to the flag pole or if not on a pole, like in the first pic, then wide white to the left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Just now
    Good luck to the competitiors.
    I am thinking for starting a "Games for those who can't be arsed". Events will include "Sitting on the Sofa - ...". "Can't find the remote, .." and the "Stretch to reach my mobile ...".


    You could include Jumping to conclusions, Running down others and Throwing a tantrum.


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