Background to the Games

In October 1976, at a meeting of the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF), Dr Guttmann, as President, reported that Moscow, who were hosting the 1980 Olympics, had not responded as to whether or not they would host the 1980 Paralympic Games. Alternative bids had been received from the USA, Mexico, Poland and South Africa.

The following year, Russia had still not responded. In the 1980s, Soviet Communist Party Leader Leonid Breschnev, is reported to have said "In our country, there are no disabled people." Poland had withdrawn their application due to technical difficulties and Mexico had not followed up, the Netherlands and Denmark had added their names to the list.

At a joint meeting of the ISMGF and International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) Executive Boards on 23rd July 1977 it was decided that it would not be appropriate for the USA to hold the Games as they had already been awarded the 1984 Olympics and Paralympics. After a presentation by Mr. Westerneng, Chairman of the Dutch Sports Organisation for the Disabled, the decision was to award the 1980 Games to the Netherlands. 

Having been the first time that such a large competition for the disabled was held in the Netherlands, the Games are credited with dramatically changing their image and promoting the social integration and recognition of disabled people in Dutch society. 

Although South Africa had competed, with a racially integrated team, at the Stoke Mandeville Games between 1977 to 1979, their participation in the 1980 Games was heavily debated in the States General (Dutch Parliament). The final decision was that, if the organisers allowed South Africa to compete, the offer of government financial support would be withdrawn. On this occasion, unlike Toronto 1976, the organisers decided to cancel the South African entry. 

The Arnhem 1980 Games was the first time the international sport federations of the four major impairment groups (amputees, blind & visually impaired, cerebral palsied, spinal cord injuries) were represented simultaneously in one venue.

These Games led to the creation of the International Co-ordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled in the World (ICC) in 1982, in which each federation (ISMGF, ISOD, Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) and International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA)) was represented. The forerunner of todays International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Naming the Games

The name to be used for these Games was a contentious issue. 

Having brought together athletes from ISMGF and ISOD at the Toronto 1976 Games neither the ‘International Stoke Mandeville Games’ or the term ‘Paralympic’, which, at the time, inferred ‘Paraplegic Olympics’ were appropriate.

Following the use of Olympic terminology in Toronto and Örnsköldsvik in 1976, Dr Guttmann and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had reached a provisional agreement that, in return for IOC Patronage and support, Olympic terminology would not be used. As this had not been confirmed it was decided that the Arnhem Games would be called ‘Olympics for the Disabled 1980’. 

In February 1978, Madame Berlioux (General Director of the IOC) wrote to Dr Guttmann about the use of Olympic terminology, who replied that there had been no official written confirmation of the IOC decision to recognise ISMGF.

The discussion continued throughout 1978 but a number of issues prevented a solution being reached, these included:

  • The Special Olympics Organisation in the USA having been granted use of the term by the United States Olympic Committee, which came to light when they applied to join ISOD in 1978.
  • The IOC only wanting to recognise one organisation as officially representing the whole of the disabled sports movement – despite Dr Guttmann being President of both ISOD and ISMGF they were constitutionally separate entities.
  • The IOC had banned South Africa, who were full members of ISOD and ISMGF, from Olympic competition and, therefore, felt unable to recognise an organisation that allowed South Africa to participate. 

An internal IOC memo, from Lord Killanin (President of the IOC) to Madame Berlioux in late March 1980, ends with him stating ‘the correct thing would be that (a) these Games should not take place in the Olympic country (b) they should not be called the Olympic Games but whatever games they like, under the patronage of the I.O.C.’. 

In May 1980, Madame Berlioux wrote to Mr Idenburg, President of the Netherlands Olympic Committee asking him if anything could be done under Dutch law to stop the use of the title ‘Olympics for the Disabled’. Strangely, considering the Games finished on July 5th, on October 17th she wrote to Mr. Henrik Meijers, Managing Director of the Sports Division for the Games, asking whether it was too late to drop the word ‘Olympics’ ending with a suggestion of possible legal action.

The build-up to the Games


The Arnhem logo shows an unfurled Dutch flag with the number ‘80’ representing the year of the Games.

Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

Designed by Joop Smits of the PRAD advertising agency, the logo represents an unfurled Dutch flag with the number ‘80’ representing the year of the Games. The ‘80’ is made up of the three interlocking rings, which as previously, represent Friendship, Unity and Sportsmanship.


The Arnhem poster displays the logo which represents an unfurled Dutch flag with the number ‘80’ representing the year of the Games.

Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

Changes to Events

Sitting volleyball, which enabled amputees, cerebral palsy and paraplegics to compete together was debuted, as was wrestling for the blind. 

Snooker was dropped from the programme, possibly because it was not a well-known sport in the Netherlands. 

The number of classes for amputees grew from the four, for single amputees in Toronto, to nine, that included classes for double and multiple amputations. 

Organised by Great Britain, Israel and the Netherlands, blind judo was a demonstration sport, with 11 judokas, from the three organising countries and Japan, taking part.


Papendal Sports Centre

Arnhem 1980 Games postcard showing the venue, the Papendal Sports Centre, from the air

Games postcard showing Papendal sports centre from the air. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

In 1963 the Dutch Sports Federation plan for a national High Performance Centre, to benefit all the NSF affiliated sports federations, was approved and they purchased 93.5 hectares of woodland from the City of Arnhem. 
The High Performance Centre was finally opened in 1971 by HRH Princess Beatrix.
Used for all sports except swimming and wheelchair basketball. 

De Vallei, Veenendaal
A 50m public swimming pool.
Used for swimming and pentathlon swimming events. 

Rijnhal, Arnhem
An indoor arena opened in 1972, mainly used for sports and concerts.
Spectator capacity – 5,000.
Used for wheelchair basketball.


First Paralympic Mascots of 2 squirrels wearing sports kit with the Arnhem 1980 logo

Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

Dutch broadcasting company, AVRO, ran a competition to design the first Paralympic mascots in which entrants were asked to send in hand-made models.  The winning entry of a pair of squirrels were created by Necky Oprinsen from St. Michelsgestel in the Netherlands.

The Paralympic Flame

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands lit the flame and handed it over to four Dutch competitors who represented each of the disability groups, Harry Venema (paraplegic basketball), Vera Rotgans-Schipper (amputee swimmer), Joke Van Rijswijk (blind athlete) and Chris De Groen (CP swimmer) who lit the cauldron.

The opening ceremony

Archive film of the opening ceremony

The opening ceremony took place on Saturday 21st June, at 2.00pm, in the ‘Olympic’ Stadium at Papendal Sports Centre in front of a crowd of 12,000. The weather remained dry, although conditions did necessitate the cancellation of a planned parachute landing in the stadium. 

Beginning with barrel organ music by ‘De Korsikaan’ from Nijmegan, followed by folk music by ‘De Cannenburgher Boerendansers’ from Vaassen, the ‘Meuelenvelders’ from Doesburg and ‘‘t Olde Getrouw’ from Varsseveld with more music from the Royal Dutch Infantry and the Royal Airforce Band, the end of the entertainment was timed to coincide with the arrival by helicopter of Princess Margriet, Patroness of the Games and Pieter van Vollenhoven, her husband. 

Chairman of the organising committee, Alfred van Emden, welcomed the athletes and led a minutes’ silence in honour of Sir Ludwig Guttmann who had died 3 months earlier.

After Princess Margriet declared the Games officially open there was jazz, free exercise and streamer displays by girls from the Royal Dutch Gymnastics Union.

When the flags had been raised and the cauldron lit, Irene Schmidt, a Dutch paraplegic table tennis player, took the athletes oath and recorded for the first time, Henk Boersbroek, an athletics official, took the oath on behalf of the officials. 

The ceremony ended with a parade of the 42 competing teams, led by Canada with the Netherlands, as host nation, bringing up the rear.

During the Games

All the teams were housed in The Oranjekazerne, Schaarsbergen (renamed as 'The Olympic Village'), a military camp named after the Dutch Royal Family. For the duration of the Games, The Village had its own Mayor, Sabine de Jong van Ellemeet. 

The Games organisers had braille maps of the Papendal venue produced to assist blind and visually impaired athletes in getting around the various event locations.

29 escorts travelled with the British team with Cliff Last as overall British team manager and Ted Papps as his assistant manager. Each impairment group had their own team manager, Tony Sainsbury (paraplegics), Chris Attrill (blind/visually impaired), Peter Kelly (cerebral palsy) and Len Softley (amputees).

The Medals

Gold medals from the Arnhem 1980 Summer Games

Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

Medal statistics

The British team won a total of 47 gold, 32 silver and 21 bronze medals, finishing fifth in the medals table.

Information about the earlier Paralympic Games (1960-1988) is incomplete, and often contradictory across sources, therefore final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be accurate. The data here is taken from the IPC Historical Results Archive, which is being reviewed by the IPC.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • Having won 3 swimming golds at the Toronto 1976 Games, Mike Kenny equalled that achievement at Arnhem. 
  • James Muirhead, Scotland’s most successful visually impaired male Paralympian, repeated his results from Toronto, winning 2 gold and 2 silver medals in swimming. 
  • Philip Sadler won gold in Men's Javelin J and silver in both Men's Discus Throw J and Silver in Men's Shot Put J. 
  • Margaret Price, a class 2 paraplegic, won 4 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze in swimming, 1 gold in Women's Shot Put 2, 1 silver in Women's Discus Throw 2 and 1 bronze in Women's Javelin 2, becoming the first woman to win gold medals in two different sports at the same Games. 
  • Monica Vaughan nearly equalled her achievement of five individual swimming gold medals in Toronto when, having won four golds, she finished a close second, behind Mitchell of Canada who set a new world record, in the Women's 100 m Backstroke C-D. 
  • An athlete, recorded only as, M. Goddard, won gold medals in Women's Discus Throw CP C, Women's Javelin CP C and Women's Shot Put CP C.

Media coverage at the event

These were the first Games to have a programme made about them by the BBC. A 60-minute documentary narrated by Cliff Morgan, a former rugby union player who had spent a year in a rehabilitation centre following a stroke ten years earlier, was broadcast on BBC1 at 7.00pm on the 17th July.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony took place on Saturday 5th July in the Papendal Sports Centre stadium where it had opened, inclement weather again meant a planned parachute jump had to be cancelled. 

Attendees included the Dutch Health Minister, Mr Ginjaar, and Secretary of State for Culture, Recreation and Social Work, Mr Wallis de Vries. The Games were officially declared closed by Alfred van Emden, Chairman of the organising committee, and the flags of ISMGF and ISOD were lowered, folded and delivered to Joan Scruton, Secretary General of ISMGF and Marcel Avronsart, newly elected President of ISOD, for safe keeping, as the Royal Dutch Army band played the Olympic hymn. 

The flame was slowly extinguished and the traditional parade of competing nations brought the ceremony to a close.


  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.
  • - Geerte Meijer, Casus Olympische Spelen voor gehandicapten Arnhem 1980, © Mulier Instituut, Utrecht
  • © IPC