Sport for all: Blind Veterans UK and the beginnings of the Paralympic movement

Date
4 December 2013 16:10

Looking back at the history of the Paralympic and Olympic movement with Blind Veterans UK.

Veterans of Blind Veterans UK participated in a wide range of sporting activities long before the formal beginnings of the Paralympics.

The term 'Paralympic' was first used at the 1988 games, but the first Olympics which brought together athletes who were blind, amputees and in wheelchairs was that in Toronto in 1976. However the birthplace of the Paralympic movement is usually recognised as Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire. Here Sir Ludwig Guttman, director of the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, organised the 'Stoke Mandeville Games' for Second World War veterans with injuries of that nature.

Guttman's work was very important but he was not the first to organise competitive sport for a disabled group, and Blind Veterans UK had an important and pioneering role. Our location in our early years in Regent's Park was ideal for a wide range of sports and games. Rowing in the lake there was very popular with members, and soon this developed into challenge matches against other organisations, and an annual regatta on the Thames. Other sports that were popular including swimming, water-polo, competitive walking and tandem cycling.  An annual sports day took place, with hundreds of members taking part in activities including throwing the cricket ball, obstacle races, skipping, putting weights, the 100 yards relay and tug of war.

Football, unsurprisingly, was also very popular. Early attempts at playing conventionally, with a bell inside the ball, were unsuccessful, but in 1920 a challenge cup tournament was established with penalty kicks as the method of scoring. A sighted goalkeeper played for both sides. The Arsenal, Everton and Sunderland teams all came to test their skills against ours and the Arsenal and England goalkeeper, Ernest Williamson kindly kept goal in a number of the challenge cup finals.

Our involvement in sport is a long and fascinating story which continues to the present day and includes participation in a team led by Ludwig Guttman at an International Games for the Disabled in France in 1969, as well as many appearances in events at Stoke Mandeville. We have other connections Stoke Mandeville Hospital too, as our own Second World War Hospital Unit was based there from 1944 until the end of the war. These links have been featured in an exhibition at Stoke Mandeville Stadium which traces the path to the recent Paralympic Games. It included photos from our Collections & Archives of the early activities in Regent's Park.

If you are or know of a veteran with vision impairment, go to:  www.noonealone.org.uk or telephone:  0800 389 7979.