The Sydney Paralympics, held 18-29 October 2000, marked several significant milestones for the Paralympics:
• Sydney was the first Paralympics where the core services for sport delivery were provided by the same people who organised the preceding Olympics
• It hosted the largest number of athletes – 3,881 (2,891 men, 990 women) – ever to compete at a Paralympic Games (20% more athletes than at Atlanta)
• 16 new countries participated, representing the largest number of delegations to date
• Unprecedented media coverage that set a new standard, with over 2,000 media personnel housed in two pavilions in the Main Media Centre that operated on a 24-hour basis.
• Record crowds and ticket sales, with more than 1.16 million spectators
• It was only the second time in Paralympic history that six disability groups participated – amputees, blind and visually impaired, cerebral palsied, intellectually disabled, les autres and spinal cord injuries
• The program for athletes with an intellectual disability was considerably expanded: in Atlanta, there were only 4 events; in Sydney there were 16 events in swimming, 14 in track and field, 2 in table tennis, and there was a male basketball competition with eight teams each fielding 12 members
• Sailing and wheelchair rugby were offered as full medal sports for the first time, while powerlifting was opened up for female athletes.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the Sydney Games was how it changed the face of international disability sport. The traction gained by the Paralympics as spectator sport, the shedding of the long-held nation of sport as rehabilitation and the unprecedented investment into winning by athletes, coaches and disability organisations created an international legacy that recognised Paralympians as elite athletes.
The Sydney Paralympics were marked by a controversial event that had severe long-term effects. After the Games were completed, it was revealed that members of the gold medal winning Spanish men’s basketball team had fraudulently competed. A journalist, who had played on the team, published an article declaring that he and nine fellow players did not have an intellectual disability. They had been deliberately recruited to win medals and secure funding for the sport.
The lengthy negotiations that followed resulted in the suspension of all athletes with an intellectual disability from future Paralympic participation. They would not return to the Games until London in 2012.
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