Should Golf be Included in the Paralympics?

Millions of people around the world are tuning in to the Tokyo Paralympic Games to see their favourite sports played by their countries’ qualified athletes. Viewers can watch sports ranging from wheelchair fencing and five-a-side football to archery and powerlifting. At GTC, we’ve taken a closer look into the games, exploring a wide range of important topics, including:

  1. The disparity between sports included in the Olympic vs Paralympic Games; 
  2. The sports seeing an increase in interest around the Paralympics 
  3. Why we firmly believe that golf should be included in the 2024 Paralympic Games


Olympic vs Paralympic Sports 


While the Paralympics has an array of exciting athletics to watch, it has significantly fewer sports than the Olympics. By comparison, the Olympics has 46 sports for athletes to participate in, and the Paralympics has only 23. Clearly, the Paralympics are missing several events that are included in the Olympics. These include:


The Most Searched Sports During the Paralympics


To gauge what Paralympic events are inspiring others to research, watch, and even participate, we decided to look at the most popular sports. Based on search trend data, the most searched sports during the Paralympics are tennis, basketball, and rugby, while other popular sports include: 

As more sports are played in high profile and well-funded events, such as the Paralympics, more individuals are likely to be inspired to get involved, and disabled communities will be elevated as a result. To that end, including more sports, such as golf, is an incredibly important part of growing the sport and the infrastructure around it. 


Why Golf Should be a Paralympic Sport


Across the globe, there are disabled golfers playing in professional tournaments, and in England, there are over 82,000 people with a disability participating in golf at least once a week (Sports England). So, why isn’t golf represented in the Paralympics? 

As part of a growing movement to make golf an official sport in the Paralympics, individuals and organisations have been lobbying for golf to be added to the event. Key arguments in favour of including golf as a Paralympic sport include:

  1. Spectators benefit from seeing and relating to disabled athletes participating in their favourite sports 
  2. Including golf in the Paralympics plays an important role in raising awareness around disabilities 
  3. In order for athletic programmes to grow, they needed to have a platform, be included, and be funded 

While the movement has widespread support within the golfing community, there’s still some way to go for Paralympic golf to receive the recognition and representation it deserves. To take a deeper dive into the conversation, we interviewed important members of the community to get their insight, and figure out how we can all make a difference. 


Thomas Johansson – Owner of UGOLF Academy by Thomas Johansson at Hacienda del Álamo Hotel & SPA Golf Resort, Mar Menor Golf Resort and Marina Golf in Mojácar, Murcia, Spain, comments: 


What is your experience in the sporting community with disabled athletes?

First of all, I’ve always spoken about my players as having different abilities instead of being disabled. In my 25 years of teaching golf professionally, I’ve been fortunate to work with several players with different abilities, ranging from players with only one arm or one leg to visually impaired or completely blind golfers. Starting both the golf and alpine skiing programmes for Special Olympics in Gibraltar resulting in several medals and seeing Paul Appleyard defending his Blind Golf World Championship have been the highlights so far.


Is there more that can be done in terms of facilities management to accommodate disabled athletes?

I think there are several practical things that can be improved on most golf courses but what I would like to see is more golf clubs working actively on attracting golfers with different abilities. Most of us golf professionals live a good life thanks to the game and it’s a great way to give back by running programmes for Paralympics or Special Olympics, especially for younger athletes.


What are some of the rewarding aspects of working with disabled athletes?

The honesty and straightforwardness from the Special Olympics athletes and the work ethic from the Paralympic players have taught me a lot. Once a student told me: “I’ve only got one leg so I need to work twice as hard as everyone else”. My best golfing memories are from those athletes and we’ve become friends for life.


Have you personally benefited from seeing a variety of athletes with a range of disabilities represented in the Paralympics?

I really enjoy watching the Paralympics as I know from my experiences that the friendship and camaraderie among the athletes is amazing and that everyone truly wishes the other competitors the best. 


As we approach the 2021 Paralympics, there is lots of conversation around why golf isn’t included in the games. Do you think it’s important golf is added to the Paralympics? 

I think it’s very important to add golf to the Paralympics. Golf is a worldwide sport that anyone can play and including golf in the games would bring more awareness to the fact that golf is a lot more inclusive than many people think. Many people would be able to relate how good the athletes are and it would be easier to get funding to create more programmes for those who need it the most. At my academies, we have programmes for players with different abilities. Covid has halted them a bit but we are ready to grow them as soon as things improve.


Paul Appleyard, World Champion, Visually Impaired Golfer, also comments: 


What is your experience in the golfing community?

I started playing blind golf in 2006 and retired from the sport after retaining my world title in Japan in 2016. I have won several England and Wales Blind Golf events and was also England number 1, winning the order of merit in the 07/08 season. I have also won trophies at the Italian Open twice and the Australian Open in 2014 where I also won my first 3 world titles. I have represented England 3 times and this was a great honour, just as I would imagine it would be to do so in the Olympics. I now play regular golf with my buddies for fun.


Do you think golf should be included in the Paralympics?

Absolutely. Where there is a will there will always be a way, however in order for it to happen there have to be some fundamental changes to disabled golf throughout the world. First of all, national and regional governing bodies in individual disciplines, e.g. blind golf, need to become much more closely aligned. The same can be said for governing bodies of different disability disciplines. In other words, blind golf needs to work more closely with amputee golf and so on. Previously there have been too many differentials between governing bodies, not least the handicapping system. 

A standardised approach needs adopting before anything can be moved forward and the new world handicapping system should help move this forward. Secondly, participation in some disabled golf disciplines needs to increase in order to be accepted as a widely played sport, for example in order to have sufficient numbers of players taking part in a Paralympic event there needs to be far more grass roots participants to choose international representatives from. One of the issues facing disabled athletes is that participation often has to be financed personally or by personal efforts to attract support. In order for the sport to grow and the individual bodies to truly align, much more funding is required to move it from a minority sport to elite sport where it deserves to be.

It is possible and every effort should be made to make it happen, there is a lot of work to do in advance.

My preparations to retain my world titles in Japan 2016 started out as preparation for the Paralympics in Rio but as we all know it never happened. My time is now passed but it really disappoints me that 5 years on we still can’t get golf into the games for the current disabled golfing stars.


Ash Harris, Pro golfer, comments: 


What is your role and experience in the golfing community?

I’ve been a disabled golfer for 8 years, and during that time I’ve also built a media company based around building awareness of Disability Golf and its players.


Have you personally benefited from seeing a variety of athletes with a range of disabilities represented in the Paralympics?

I’ve not personally benefited. If anything, it just inspires me to work harder and know that anyone can do anything if they believe in themselves to do so.


As we approach the 2021 Paralympics, there is lots of conversation around why golf isn’t included in the games. Do you think it’s important golf is added to the Paralympics? 

Yes, but it has to be at the right time, with the right people, and with strong infrastructure behind it. Otherwise it will become a forgotten sport of the Paralympics and won’t be a sport where people watch and are inspired to take up the game regardless of whether or not they have a disability. There is also work to do to support golfers with disabilities who want to turn professional and make a career out of it. This currently isn’t the case with only a minute number getting it, so that’s something that needs to be improved on. 




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