The games people play

In part 2 of her investigation into the origin of sport for people with disabilities in South Africa, GERTRUDE SIERRA takes a look at its development

In our July/August issue, we traced the founding of sport for people with disabilities – thanks to the work in 1948 of Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a neurosurgeon at the Stoke Mandeville hospital in the UK.

Once South Africa became a Republic in 1961, South Africans were barred from taking part in the Commonwealth Games and the plans to send Bernard Humble, a paraplegic weightlifter, to Perth were scotched. Efforts were then focused on sending a team to the Stoke Mandeville Games in the UK. The first team from South Africa, under the auspices of St. Giles, took part in the games in July 1962, consisting of three athletes: Bernard Humble, Ronald Welch and Nancy Thesen, along with their team manager, Gisela Steyn.

The team won two gold medals – Thesen (for archery) and Humble (for weightlifting, in which he also broke the world record). After the South African Games Association was established on 12 November, 1962, these medallists were awarded their Springbok colours. In 1963, a team of seven athletes took part at the Stoke Mandeville Games and won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal.

Despite the fact that able-bodied sporting codes were not permitted to participate in the Olympic Games in 1964, South Africa was invited to the 1964 International Stoke Mandeville Games that were held in Tokyo, Japan (the second Paralympic Games). This South African team of nine athletes achieved nine gold, seven silver and three bronze medals to finish up tie with Germany in fifth place!

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