The Paralympic Games is the premier sporting event for athletes with physical disabilities, and I first started watching the coverage during the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I did so as I wanted to keep the buzz going after participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games as a ceremonies volunteer and attending some of the sporting events. Now, while watching the Paralympics, I root for all the athletes cheering loudest for those competing for Team USA, Team GB, and of course, all those representing Caribbean countries. So how have Caribbean Paralympic athletes done at the Paralympic Games? Well, below, I provide insight.
History of Paralympic Games
Before highlighting Caribbean participation and success at the Paralympic Games, it is vital to provide some background on the history of the games. This history begins on the opening day of the London 1948 Olympic Games when an athletic event for disabled British World War II veterans was held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Successfully organized by Doctor Ludwig Guttmann, this led to the creation of the annual Stoke Mandeville Games. During the fourth anniversary, coinciding with the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Summer Games, the event became international with the inclusion of Dutch and Israeli veterans.
In 1960, the event became even more global, morphing into the first Paralympic Games. Taking place in Rome, Italy, it featured 400 athletes from 23 countries. Now organized by the International Paralympic Committee founded in 1989, it is the premier multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities. Eligible athletes include those with amputations, blindness, cerebral palsy, and mobility disabilities who can complete in 28 Paralympic sports, including 22 summer sports and six winter sports.
The word Paralympic includes the Greek preposition “para,” meaning alongside or beside, and the Paralympic Games are also known as the Parallel Games. Though they are a completely separate event from the Olympic Games organized by the International Olympic Committee. The two governing bodies do work closely together resulting in increasing similarities between the two global sporting events.
To start, both have summer and winter multi-sport events taking place every four years that begin with an Opening Ceremony and end with a Closing Ceremony, each with a parade of the athletes. Also, since the 1988 Seoul (Korea) Summer Olympic Games and 1992 Albertville (France) Winter Games, both the Olympic and Paralympic Games have occurred in the same cities and venues. The Paralympic Games are usually held two to three weeks after the Olympic Games.
The current motto for the Paralympics is Spirit in Motion, which represents the strong will of Paralympians across the globe who despite their disabilities move forward and never give up. This is represented in the Paralympic flag which has three Tae-Geuks encircling a central point to symbolize motion. Known as the three Agitos, the colors are red, blue, and green – the three colors that are most widely seen in national flags around the world.
Paralympic Agitos Flag. Photo Credit: © David Pearson for Government Olympic Communication via Wikimedia Commons.
Why doesn’t every Caribbean country have a Paralympic team?
Countries that wish to send athletes to the Paralympics need to establish a National Paralympic Committee (NPC) that is approved by the International Paralympic Committee. There are currently 182 National Paralympic Committees, but sadly, many Caribbean countries are missing from the roster.
Some Caribbean countries have Olympic National Committees but do not currently have Paralympic National Committees. This includes The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Saint Lucia. This may be due to a lack of qualified disabled athletes but more likely the lack of funding to train disabled athletes and adequately provide for their support personnel. Also, to purchase the adaptive devices and technologies required by disabled athletes to participate at the highest level. For example, running blades and racing wheelchairs are all quite expensive.
As for the others, well as they are mostly dependent territories, I initially thought that the International Paralympic Committee had a similar rule as the International Olympic Committee, where only independent countries recognized by the international community are eligible. However, the constitution of the International Paralympic Committee defines National Paralympic Committees as “a national organization recognized by the IPC as the sole representative of athletes with an impairment in that country or territory to the IPC.”
So it would appear that other British Overseas Territories like my beloved Montserrat, Anguilla, and Turks & Caicos would be eligible, but they do not have National Paralympic Committees. Same for France Territories ( Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, and Saint Martin), and Netherland Territories ( Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten).
So what opportunities are there for physically disabled athletes from Caribbean islands that are still dependent territories of Britain, France, and The Netherlands that do not already have a National Paralympic Committee? Well, similar to the Caribbean Olympic athletes, they can compete on the Paralympics team for their “mother country.” Not ideal, but at least the athletes can participate in this global sporting event growing in popularity.
That said, how have Caribbean countries done at the Paralympic Games (starting with the first Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, in 1960, and the first Winter Paralympics in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, in 1976)? Well below, I provide insight after a review of the International Paralympic Committee website.
Jamaican Team at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo Credit: © Caroline Granycome via Wikimedia Commons.
General facts about Caribbean countries at the Paralympics
- Jamaica was the first Caribbean country to take part in the Paralympic Games. They did so at the 1968 Summer Paralympics in Tel Aviv.
- Fourteen Caribbean countries currently have active National Paralympic Committees. This includes Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, US Virgin Islands.
- The Bahamas also previously had a National Paralympic Committee, first appearing at the 1972 Summer Paralympics in Heidelberg, West Germany. However, they are no longer listed on the International Paralympic Committee website as having a National Paralympic Committee.
- Fifteen Caribbean countries have participated in at least one of the fifteen previously held Summer Paralympic Games.
- Grenada and Saint Vincent & The Grenadines made their Paralympic debut at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
- No Caribbean country has participated in any of the twelve previously held Winter Paralympic Games.
Which Caribbean country has won the most Paralympic medals?
- Caribbean athletes at the Summer Paralympic Games have won one hundred sixty-six medals. This includes 69 gold medals, 41 silver medals, and 56 bronze medals.
- Six Caribbean Countries have won at least one Paralympic medal. This includes The Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Dominican Republic.
- Similar to the Olympics Games, Cuba is the Caribbean country that has won the most medals at the Paralympic Games. Having participated in eight summer Paralympics, Cuba has won 92 Paralympic medals. These medals have been won in three different sports, including Athletics, Judo, and Swimming.
- Jamaica has won the second most Paralympic medals having participated in fourteen Paralympic Games, the most for any Caribbean country. Specifically, Jamaica has won 55 Paralympic medals. The majority are from two Summer Paralympic Games: Heidelberg 1972 (15 medals) and Arnhem 1980 (19 medals). Jamaica’s Paralympic medals were won in five different sports, including Athletics, Swimming, Table Tennis, Weightlifting, and Wheelchair Basketball.
- Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago have each won six Paralympic medals, the third most of any Caribbean country. Puerto Rico has participated in eight summer Paralympic Games and Trinidad & Tobago has parted in four.
Cuban athlete at London 2021 Paralympic Games. Photo Credit: © Garry Knight via Flickr.com.
Paralympic Games Medal Table for Caribbean Region
|Antigua & Barbuda||Yes||Summer: London 2012||0||0||0||0|
|Aruba||Yes||Summer: Rio de Janeiro 2016||0||0||0||0|
|The Bahamas||Not Active||Summer: Heidelberg, West Germany 1972||0||2||3||5|
|Barbados||Yes||Summer: Sydney 2000||0||0||0||0|
|Bermuda||Yes||Summer: Atlanta 1996||0||0||0||0|
|The British Virgin Islands||No||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Cuba||Yes||Summer: Barcelona 1992||43||20||29||92|
|Dominican Republic||Yes||Summer: Barcelona 1992||1||0||0||1|
|Grenada||Yes||Summer: Toyko 2020||0||0||0||0|
|Haiti||Yes||Summer: Beijing 2008||0||0||0||0|
|Jamaica||Yes||Summer: Tel Aviv 1968||21||16||18||55|
|Puerto Rico||Yes||Summer: Soeul 1988||1||2||3||6|
|Saint Kitts & Nevis||No||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Saint Vincent & The Grenadines||Yes||Summer: Toyko 2020||0||0||0||0|
|Suriname||Yes||Summer: Athens 2004||0||0||0||0|
|Trinidad & Tobago||Yes||Summer: Stoke Mandeville 1984||3||1||2||6|
|Turks & Caicos Islands||No||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|United States Virgin Islands||Yes||Summer: Toyko 2020||0||0||0||0|
Note: The medal count above is inclusive of results from the delayed 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.