While Los Angeles is a relative Olympic veteran, hosting the Games twice before, in 2028 it will host the Paralympic Games for the very first time.
The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960, so when Los Angeles hosted its first Olympics in 1932, the Paralympic Movement had yet to exist.
In 1984, when Los Angeles hosted its second Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games were held in both New York and Stoke Mandeville, United Kingdom. Initially, the four independent disability sports organizations that made up the Paralympic Games at that time were supposed to compete together in Los Angeles, as the International Olympic Committee had announced back in 1977. But at the time, those four organizations had no formal relations with Olympic Games organizing committees. Thus, in 1980, the American National Wheelchair Athletic Association, an organization affiliated with the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation, announced it would hold its own Games for wheelchair athletes in a separate location. As a result, the other three disability sports organizations combined their efforts and chose New York as their Games’ host city.
Since the Olympic Games Seoul 1988, the Paralympic Games have taken place in the same venues as the Olympic Games, and on June 19, 2001, a formal cooperation agreement was signed between the IOC and International Paralympic Committee for the first time to secure the practice of “one bid, one city” for both Games.
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Today, the IOC and IPC work even closer together under a renewed cooperation agreement in which the IOC supports the IPC and the Paralympic Games. In addition to sharing the same host city and venues for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the IOC-IPC agreement, which currently runs through 2020, includes funding for the IPC, sports development programs and knowledge sharing.
Last year, the IOC and IPC signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the principles for a new long-term agreement that would run through 2032. The new agreement would build on the current partnership to help ensure the financial stability and long-term viability of the Paralympic Games and Paralympic Movement. This includes the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028.
The U.S. has competed in every Paralympic Games and has won more medals than any other nation. It has co-hosted the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York and hosted Paralympic Games Atlanta 1996 and Paralympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002.
Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has successfully held numerous major para-sport competitions, including the 2010 Para Volley Sitting Volleyball World Championships, 2014 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships and the 2015 IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships.
But, the U.S. market is still “fairly underdeveloped compared to other markets around the world” when it comes to awareness of the Paralympic Movement, according to newly elected IPC President Andrew Parsons.
The LA 2028 Games present a golden opportunity for the U.S. to make a breakthrough and embrace the Paralympic Movement as a country.
While the Paralympic Movement has been growing steadily in the U.S., most Americans have still never seen Paralympic sport. Having LA host its first Paralympic Games in 2028 would elevate awareness for para-sports exponentially throughout the country. Through ticket sales, TV viewership and commercial partner involvement, the U.S. will be given a massive chance to catch up to other countries such as Great Britain, Brazil and Japan, where the Paralympic Games are now more a part of mainstream sports culture.
The sight of blade runners sprinting down the LA Memorial Coliseum in front of 70,000 roaring fans or wheelchair basketball players lighting up the Staples Center all has the potential to educate and exhilarate any fans not yet familiar with Paralympic track and field.
The LA 2028 Games can also leave a Paralympic legacy by transforming LA into a model U.S. city in terms of accessibility and inclusion.
The LA 2028 bid book emphasized its “One Celebration with Two Games” motto, noting that the organizing committee’s Board of Directors, Athlete Commissions and Advisory Councils all include Paralympians.
LA 2028 staff will be required to enroll in educational training courses on understanding disability and the Paralympic Movement, as the organizing committee hopes the Games will help the U.S. achieve a broader societal understanding of people with an impairment and the sports opportunities available to them.
When all eyes are on LA, the 2028 Paralympic Games should look like quite a turnaround from the 1984 Paralympic Games.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.