Background: The Paralympic Games is currently the second largest multi-sport event in the world, where athletes with disabilities demonstrate their athletic abilities and performances
as elite competitors (Legg & Steadward, 2011). The organization of para-sport, however, is not as well understood as the able bodied system, meanwhile faces important challenges, such as the lack of
disability-specific knowledge, limited coaching expertise and coach education pathway, higher cost of equipment, the integration within mainstream sports, and the level of awareness and recognition in
society (Radke & Doll-Tepper, 2011). The purpose of this study is to identify from an organisational perspective, how able-bodied elite sports differ from para-sports in regard to developing their
athletic careers. The long term goal is then to develop a benchmark for further exploration.
Methods: The SPLISS model (Sport Policy Factors Leading to International Sporting Success (De Bosscher et al., 2006), was used as a theoretical framework to better understand how the
Para sport system may differ from the able bodied system. Data were collected from 12 semi-structured in-depth interviews with international Paralympics experts and a literature review. The
interviews were composed of 12 questions that addressed the 9 SPLISS pillars.
Results: Through content analysis of the literature review and interviews, 8 topics were identified as the main differences between para-sports and able-bodied sports:
1. Medical/Physiological/Injuries: Due to the different kinds of impairments (congenital or acquired), medical and physiological aspects can differ, as well as the amount and type of injuries.
2. Training methods: These can be different due to the kind of disability and medical complications of the disability.
3. Athletes Pathways: Paralympic athlete pathways can differ concerning its development and length.
4. Late entry: Paralympic athletes usually have late access to sport, compared to able bodied athletes, due to acquired disability or awareness of opportunity.
5. Coaching: Para-coaches may need extra knowledge to coach athletes with disabilities regarding all different impairments and the implications to training.
6. Classification: Classification may be the main difference between Olympic and Paralympic sports.
7. Number of athletes: In Paralympic sports there are typically few athletes in each category of disability (sports classification) and also few athletes at every level of the pathway.
8. Structure and governance: Able bodied sports are organized by able-bodied international federations; in contrast, Paralympic sports are organized as a mixture of federations depending on sport,
federation disability or in some cases as a part of the able-bodied sport federation.
Conclusions: The results of the data collected suggest that the above eight elements illustrate the complexity of para-sports organization and development. This will serve as a
framework for further examination leading to a stronger understanding of the Para sport system. From this, better strategies and structures can be developed.