Episode 41:

Paralympics and Olympics—Should they merge into one?

Date released: March 2013. Updated September 2017


It’s not a new question, but it’s an evergreen one. When we conducted a poll on LinkedIn at the end of 2012 we were surprised at the strength of response we had. There was some really good discussion that raised some important issues around the integration of events for athletes with disabilities and athletes without disabilities.

An interesting conversation started at the end of last year. If you use LinkedIn at all you’ll know that it is a great forum to generate serious discussion with a world wide audience. It’s not just a place to post your profile and resume, it’s an active place where ‘Groups’ of people interested in a particular topic share their thoughts and ideas.

The Inclusion Club has an ‘Inclusion Club Group’ on LinkedIn and we exchange articles, interesting videos and opinions on various topics related to inclusion of people with disability in sport. If you are interested to join you can here. At the end of 2012 we posted a question to the Inclusion Club Group and also to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Alumni Group. The question was:

“Should the Olympics and Paralympics be merged into one? Some say ‘yes,’ some say ‘no.’ What’s your thinking?”

Inclusion Club LinkedIn Groups Question

In the one month the poll was open we had 93 votes and 80 comments. Not bad—and worth sharing here. This is how the poll went:

Inclusion Club LinkedIn poll results

So, two thirds of people thought that the two events should be kept separate.

We have read through all the 93 comments and picked out a few trends in the collective thinking. We obviously can’t represent everyone’s views here and this is certainly not a comprehensive discussion on the issues—but, it might get you thinking about the issues of inclusion around having two separate events. Here is our attempt at picking out the general themes. Thanks to all the people here who agreed to share their comments with The Inclusion Club.

Logistically, very difficult

There were many comments questioning the logistics of running one event. These were not really comments about the pros and cons of having one event—and what that might mean to athletes—but they were about the organisational difficulties of staging two massive events. Andrew Finnerty worked at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Andrew Finnerty HeadshotReally good discussion on this in the forum and having worked both at London 2012, I just can’t envisage it in terms of logistics. Also in terms of awareness and profile, this year’s Paralympics has done a huge amount for Paralympic Sport. I had never been before the Games, learnt a huge amount and will definitely go again in the future … unless you have a limitless budget it just can’t be done. As my friends in Event Services said it was stretched and in London we only had certain venues for a specific timeframe which made get-in and get-out very, very tight.
—Andrew Finnerty

The majority of people agreed with Andrew. Interestingly, there was a comment from one of the people responsible for security at the 2010 Games, who believed, from a security perspective, that a combined Games would make good logistical sense.

Separate Games—But Before of After?

There was also considerable discussion about the timing of the Games. Should the Paralympics come before the Olympics or after, as they are now. Generally, there was support for the Paralympic Games coming BEFORE the Olympics rather than after. Luc Percival questioned the ‘gap’ in between the two events:

Luc Percival HeadshotI’ve even started to question ‘the gap’ between the games. Was it so bad? Maybe running the Paralympic Games before the Olympics would make a difference, I don’t know. I am not even sure what that difference is that the gap makes. After all great events are always worth the wait. I am not sure that any momentum was lost.
—Luv Percival

Janis Boyce’s comments reflected some opinion around the comparable ‘atmospheres’ found at each Games and how the Olympics fuelled enthusiasm for the Paralympics.

Janis Boyce HeadshotHmm, I’ve got no real preference, and certainly no knowledge, on this, but my opinion is borne out of what you might call a bit of cynicism. I think the Olympics captured the imagination of the public, so that they wanted more of of it, which is why the Paralympics became so successful. People just wanted to come to watch another event. It was only AFTERWARDS that they realised how terrific the Paralympians actually are. If the Olympics and Paralympics are run separately, will people remember that feeling, or just wait to see whether they can get Olympic tickets and if not, buy the Paralympic tickets as yet again a ‘second best.’
—Janis Boyce

What the Athletes Want!

Janis also reflected a common theme that people agreed that the wishes and thoughts of the athletes were important in any future decisions about merging the two events. Central to this was the feeling that the Paralympics could be submerged and ‘lost’ in a combined event. Carol Cooke competed in her first Paralympics in London and commented on the unique atmosphere of the Paralympics.

Carol Cooke HeadshotHaving taken part in my first Paralympic Games this year I wouldn’t want it to be put together with the Olympics. The atmosphere among most the Paralympians is completely different and I hope it never changes. As a once able bodied competitor I was amazed at the support from all the other athletes after I had raced. Everyone was truly happy for everyone else… amazing. I really think that difference comes from the fact that the Olympics are all about big money, win a gold and some athletes are set for life. At the Paralympics win a gold and just be happy with the good job you did! So leave the games the way they are.
—Carol Cooke

One event = Equal coverage!

The primary argument for a merger of the two events focused on the degree of media coverage, and subsequent messaging. A common opinion was that the Paralympic Games, generally, received much less coverage globally, than the Olympics. The subsequent exposure of athletes with disabilities was restricted and distracted by the size of the Olympic Games. If the Games were merged then athletes with disabilities would receive equal coverage and much greater awareness. As one contributor put it:

AnonymousI’ve always felt that the Olympics and Paralympics should be together. They started separately, but it makes sense now to hold these events together so that viewers can see how sports have been adapted and athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics can meet each other. Spectators could get a mix of both, rather than having to choose, thereby raising awareness of Paralympic sports, plus, the additional sponsorship would help to support the development of disability sport.

A Much Bigger Debate

As we said, this is far from a real in-depth discussion on this topic. But we thought this was worth raising as an issue to get you thinking.

A similar, but much larger poll, was held by the BBC World Service in March 2012. What’s interesting about the results is that you can see differences in opinion from different countries. The question posed was:

‘Should the Paralympics stay separate?’

These are the results by country. It makes for some interesting reading!
‘Should the Paralympics stay separate?’ Results by Country

PDF Icon
Download detailed results from the BBC Poll

Fascinating stuff—we’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from this poll.

Finally, for a for a much more in-depth discussion take a look at this panel debate that was hosted by the University College London. This debate was held immediately after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in London. It’s a long video but well worth listening to. They were debating ‘Why do we hold separate Paralympic and Olympic Games.’

Hopefully that got your thinking caps on!

If you liked this episode, please consider subscribing. And leave a comment: What do you think—should the Paralympics and Olympics be merged into one? Have your say.


About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.