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In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition involving World War II veterans with a spinal cord injury in Stoke Mandeville, England. Four years later, competitors from the Netherlands joined the games and an international movement was born. Olympic style games for athletes with a disability were organized for the first time in Rome in 1960, now called Paralympics. In Toronto in 1976, other disability groups were added and the idea of merging together different disability groups for international sport competitions was born. In the same year, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden.

Today, the Paralympic Games are elite sport events for athletes with a disability. They emphasize, however, the participants' athletic achievements rather than their disability. The movement has grown dramatically since its first days. The number of athletes participating in Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to 4200 athletes from 160 countries in London in 2012.

The Paralympic Games have always been held in the same year as the Olympic Games. Since the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games and the Albertville 1992 Winter Paralympic Games they have also taken place at the same venues as the Olympics. On 19 June 2001, an agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the international Paralympic Committee (IPC) securing this practice for the future. From the 2012 bid process onwards, the host city chosen to host the Olympic Games will be obliged to also host the Paralympics.

The British city of London hosted the 2012 Paralympic Games, whereas Sochi will host the Winter Paralympics in 2014 and Rio will be the host of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic Games include athletes with disabilities (mobility disability, blindness, cerebral palsy and “les autres”) and, until 2000, athletes with an intellectual disability; after an interruption of 12 years, 2012 marked the return of athletes with an intellectual disability.