As sport for athletes with disabilities has grown and become a part of public consciousness during the years, talk about integration and activities to integrate has become increasingly intense. The author's experience has been that if a group of persons connected with sport for Persons with disabilities, athletes, and leaders alike are asked what they mean by integration, there will be almost as many different answers as there are persons in the room. Thus, depending with whom they talk, leaders within the sport system into which integration is desired, receive contradictory information as to what organizations on sport for the disabled really want and expect in this area.
Such topics as social integration on club levels, or as societal integration in sport movements are not addressed here. The concern here is with those aspects on integration which affect opportunities of athletes with disabilities "to be the themselves as (athletes) among other (athletes) - to have their integrity as disabled (athletes) respected and as such allowed full opportunities (to perform in competition) on their own conditions." (NIRIE, Normalization, Social Integration, and Community Services, Flynn-Nitsch, University Park Press, 1980).
A few controversial issues regarding sport involving persons with disabilities must be addressed before the road to integration can be fully cemented. One of the hottest is the question of able-bodied individuals or minimally disabled persons taking part in competitions for athletes with disabilities. This continues to be advocated by some athletes and leaders in wheelchair sports in particular. Another question is the concept of excellence. Will requirements for excellence in sport limit integration of severely disabled athletes into world level competitions? A third issue involves formulating principles for integration in world level competitions. It is physically impossible to include the full sports for the disabled Paralympic and World Championship programs in corresponding programs presently limited to able-bodied athletes. What formula should be used to select sport events and disabilities to be integrated in the programs?
During 1991 the International Committee on Integration of Athletes with a Disability (ICI), mandated by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), under chairmanship of the world famous former wheelchair athlete, Rick Hansen (Canada), worked out a strategy for including events for athletes with disabilities into major competitions on Olympic and World Championship levels. This will undoubtedly serve to speed up the process of including full medal events for athletes with disabilities in world competitions thus far reserved exclusively for able-bodied athletes. But strategies used must, by necessity, be limited by prevailing attitudes of the world sport society.
The time has come for the sport movement of athletes with disabilities to establish its own policies on what integration in sport is, and what it should be. Otherwise, sport for the disabled is going to be hit by the future instead of forming it. Recognizing …