The Paralympic Games had originally been open only to athletes with spinal cord injuries. From 1972, there was growing pressure from other disability groups to be included in the event. Toronto 1976 (not Montreal - the venue for the Olympic Games) saw the introduction of visually impaired and amputee athletes.
But then a problem - Moscow & the USSR proved unwilling to maintain the line of Paralympic Games. However, there was no shortage of offers to host the 1980 Paralympic Games, which were eventually awarded to Arnhem, The Netherlands - and very successful they proved too.
But what then of the future?
Los Angeles had clearly indicated that they had enough on their plate to organise their own major event (the 1984 Olympics). The most powerful disability sports organisation in the States, the NWAA, had tentatively acknowledged they would try to ensure a single site Paralympics in 1984 but without a lot of conviction. Nobody was therefore surprised when they announced that they would only organise Paralympic Games for wheelchair athletes in a USA city. This left the other international disability sports organisation scrabbling around for a venue. This group of federations eventually hit upon New York, Nassau County while Illinois was chosen for the wheelchair events.
In spite of the disappointment at this split, planning progressed until early 1984 when reports were received that the Organising Committee were having problems in its fundraising efforts and the Games there were in jeopardy. In April 1984, just 15 weeks before the Opening Ceremony in the States, Illinois withdrew!
The leadership at Stoke Mandeville hardly (!) hesitated before deciding that come what may, the event would be transferred to the home of the Paralympic movement – Stoke Mandeville, UK. The dates for the Games were revised to late July/August to provide as much time as possible for the preparations. On 22nd July 1984, with HRH Prince Charles in attendance, the Games opened on a beautiful summer’s day with over 1,000 wheelchair athletes from around the world in attendance.
Dr Guttmann - founder of the original Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 - had always been of the view that Stoke Mandeville had to lead the Paralympic Movement and be its emotional home. And more, he felt it should act as a port of safety for future unforeseen eventualities. Just before his death, he initiated a building programme for an ‘Olympic Village’ (its name to this day) on the site. This Village was completed in the early part of the ‘80s and was undoubtedly one of the most significant factors in deciding to rescue this element of the ’84 Paralympics.
On 29th August 2009 the 1984 British Paralympic team (wheelchair athletes and their staff) will reconvene in the Stoke Mandeville Stadium to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of those Games. They'll also be looking forward three years to the Opening Ceremony of the 14th Paralympic Games in the Stadium in Stratford on the same date.