about / who we are
World Abilitysport was born when the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) and the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA), both founding members of the Paralympic movement, joined forces.
The early days of Para sport
Sir Ludwig Guttman pioneered the forerunner of the Paralympic Games – the Stoke Mandeville Games – in 1948 for injured British servicemen and women in Aylesbury, Great Britain. Sixteen wheelchair users took part in archery. Four years later, in 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the competition and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded.
In 1956 the Games were affiliated with the International Olympic Committee and were awarded the Fearnley Cup. The term ‘Paralympic’ also emerged during this period having been coined by the community that was growing in Stoke Mandeville.
As a result of this early success, the International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee (ISMGC) emerged to take the Games forward. In 1960, the first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy.
A growing movement
In 1964, recognising that there were many more people with visual impairments, amputations, cerebral palsy and other disabilities who wanted to compete in sports, the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) was founded.
Later in the same decade sport for people with cerebral palsy received a boost with the establishment of the International Cerebral Palsy Society (ICPS) in 1969. By 1972 the first Cerebral Palsy Games had been held in London, Great Britain.
By 1972, the ISMGC transformed into the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF) with a remit to govern the sports and co-ordinate and serve the interests of an increasing number of national organisations and the competitions under its banner (Paralympic Games, annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, Commonwealth and regional Games).
ISOD also became a growing force and pushed hard for the inclusion of blind and amputee athletes into the Toronto 1976 Paralympics and athletes with cerebral palsy in 1980 in Arnhem, the Netherlands.
ISOD aimed to embrace all impairments but other organisations began to emerge. In 1978 at the close of the fourth Cerebral Palsy Games CPISRA was formed out of the ICPS. Along with the ISMGF, ISOD and International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), there were now bodies representing multiple disability groups.
The four organisations (ISOD, ISMGF, IBSA for blind sports and CPISRA for cerebral palsy) realised there was a need to coordinate their efforts, and in 1982 the International Coordinating Committee of Sports for the Disabled in the World (ICC) was founded. Over time other impairment groups joined the ICC.
Finally, the ICC established the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 1989 to act as the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement and organise the Paralympic Games, which they did from 1993.
A new era
The individual organisations of the ICC continued on separately representing the rights and interest of their athletes and members. They remain the founding members of the Paralympic Movement and still play a key role in its development.
In 1991 the ISMGF constitution was amended to establish the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation (ISMWSF), expanding its remit beyond the governance of the Paralympic Games. It would now include a more comprehensive membership service through the governance and management of a wide range of sports specific operations, programmes and competitions.
1991 also saw the formalisation of classification – the system used to ensure Para athletes with different impairments can compete fairly against each other. It was the International Functional Classification Symposium staged at Stoke Mandeville during the 1991 International Stoke Mandeville Games which secured the new classification rules and regulations on a sport specific basis for the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games.
This ISMWSF venture was developed during the 1980s and saw a move away from a medical-based classification system to what has become known as a ‘functional’ one. Functional classification assesses the ability of an individual athlete to do their sport, rather than their condition.
Over five decades the ISMWSF also led the way in areas such as anti-doping, education and training for classifiers and sport managers and establishing systems for the recording of world and regional records, as well as building relationships with able-bodied sport bodies.
CPISRA and the ISMWSF have both been the global governing body of the Paralympic sports of wheelchair rugby, boccia and cerebral palsy football before they became independent.
In 2004 it was decided that the ISMWSF and ISOD should merge to continue to help grow the Paralympic movement – and Para sport more generally. As a result IWAS was born and remained a standalone organisation for more than 20 years…
Today, the organisations representing the four impairment groups (wheelchair and amputees, visual impairments, intellectual impairments and cerebral palsy) are known collectively as the International Organisations of Sports for the Disabled (IOSDs).
They are members of the IPC, providing expertise and knowledge in their respective fields as well as organising impairment specific competitions on a regular basis.
The birth of World Abilitysport
Like all successful organisations, CPISRA and IWAS continued to look for ways to innovate.
As two bodies working towards those same goals for people with physical disabilities, in 2020 formal talks between them to merge began in earnest.
After ratification by both the CPISRA and IWAS General Assemblies in 2022, on 1 January the following year World Abilitysport was born.
With a proud history and crucial role to play, World Abilitysport now organises World Games and Youth World Games every year. These offer young and emerging athletes the chance to compete on a world stage for the first time, as well as giving more established athletes another chance to compete and qualify for World Championships and Paralympic Games. An average of 500 athletes from 30 countries compete at every edition.
As well as providing the first step on the road to high performance competition, World Abilitysport offers recreational camps for families and teenagers and an annual conference which contributes to research and discussion within the scientific and physical education communities.
World Abilitysport also remains responsible for wheelchair fencing, leads the development of race running and helps sports like wheelchair slalom to grow its profile.