Background to the Games

The 1968 Paralympic Games, officially known as the seventeenth International Stoke Mandeville Games, had been expected to be hosted in Mexico City since 1964, when Dr Leonardo Ruiz from the Instituto Mexicano de Rehabilitacion had attended the Tokyo Games. 

At the International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee (ISMGC) meeting in 1965, a letter from the head of the rehabilitation centre stating that things were progressing well was read out. However, as there were concerns about the possible effects of altitude on the competitors, it was decided that an American team should visit Mexico City to investigate. When Ben Lipton, the team manager, tried to make the arrangements he received a letter from the President of the rehabilitation centre saying Mexico City would be unable to host the Games because of financial constraints and accessibility issues with the facilities. Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann said they would be held at Stoke Mandeville if no other countries came forward. 

At the next meeting of the ISMGC, President of the Israeli Stoke Mandeville Committee, Mr Arieh Fink, said the Israeli Government was ‘most enthusiastic’ about hosting the Games, particularly as it coincided with the twentieth anniversaries of both the state of Israel and Stoke Mandeville Games. Israeli President, Mr Zalman Shazar, agreed to be the Games Patron and a budget of nearly £50,000 had been set. 

In Israel most Paralympic athletes were either victims of the polio epidemics which broke out during the early 1950s or were veterans of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) who were injured during their military service, particularly from the War of Independence.

In the build up to the Games there were a number of political issues which could have prevented certain nations from being able to compete in the Games. 

When applying for their visas to compete, members of the German team had to complete a questionnaire about their political past which asked whether they had been De-Nazified and in which category, as was law in Israel at the time. 

At the time of the Games, Britain led the political pressure which resulted in Rhodesia being banned from competing in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. To get around this, Israeli immigration officials got permission from Britain to allow Rhodesian athletes to only show their landing card and not their passport.

Commemorative Games stamp displaying two wheelchair basketball players in white on a green background.

Commemorative stamp. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain. 

The 1968 Tel Aviv Paralympics were the first to have a commemorative stamp in honour of the Games. The image on the stamp showed two wheelchair basketball players in white on a green background.

The build-up to the Games

LogoLogo for the 1968 Tel Aviv Paralympics showing the three wheels against a red background.

Logo for the 1968 Paralympics. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain.

The logo for the 1968 Paralympics was the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation emblem which shows three interlocking wheels to represent their values: friendship, unity and sportsmanship. This logo was also used on the medals.

Poster

Poster advertising the 1968 Tel Aviv Games

The design of the poster advertising the 1968 Paralympics looked similar to this copy. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain.

The image of the poster above is an idea of what the design would have looked like. It has been redesigned using photographic and video sources that included images of the original poster.

Changes to Events

Women’s basketball and lawn bowls which, reportedly, had not been held outside of Britain before due to concerns about the effect the wheelchairs would have on the greens, were introduced for the first time. Plywood boards were laid across parts of the bowling green, although ‘considerable damage’ was still caused. 

There were also changes to the classification systems and distances in athletics, swimming as well as new classifications for wheelchair basketball. 

Maximum distances at previous Games had been 50m for swimming and 40m for the wheelchair dash, for the 1968 Tel Aviv Games these were increased to 100m for men’s breaststroke and freestyle swimming and track races.

Gershon Huberman, a trained physiotherapist affiliated with ILAN and Chairman of the Games Sports Committee, was a key individual in the introduction of those increases through events he incorporated at the Spivack Centre, known today as the Israel Sports Centre for the Disabled (ISCD) operated by ILAN. Participants from the Centre took part in an annual March to Jerusalem covering about 120 km in four days and a swim across the Sea of Galilee, covering 3.5 to 4.5 km depending upon the water levels.

Venues 

Illustration of the 1968 Tel Aviv Paralympics venue

The 1968 Games were held over 5 different venues, in or around the ILAN Sports Centre for the Disabled, which was also the administrative headquarters for the Games. Originally known as the Spivack Rehabilitation and Sports Center, after donors, the Spivack Family of the United States, it opened in 1960 and was the first sports club for the handicapped in Israel. 

  • National Stadium Ramat Gan (Main stadium)
    Built in 1950 as the national stadium of Israel and host venue of the 3rd Maccabiah Games (an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event).
    Spectator capacity - 41,583.
    Used for archery and athletics. 
  • HaYarkon Scouts Club
    Used for snooker. 
  • ILAN Sports Centre for the Disabled
    Used for basketball, fencing and swimming. 
  • Ohel Shem School
    Used for wheelchair basketball, precision javelin, slalom, table tennis and weightlifting. 
  • Ramat Gan Lawn Bowls Club
    Established in 1950, the first lawn bowls club in Israel, built on ground donated by Mr. Krinitzi, the Mayor of Ramat Gan.
    Used for lawn bowls.

The opening ceremony

Photo of Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Yigal Allon (centre) with Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann

Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Yigal Allon (centre) with Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain

The opening ceremony was held on 4th November 1989 at the Hebrew University Stadium in Jerusalem in front of 10,000 spectators. After the parade of nations, the crowd were entertained with performances by a military band, a girls’ choir and a group of folk dancers. Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann gave the opening ceremony speech.

The Games were officially opened by the Deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon. 

The athletes’ oath, to conduct themselves according to the three ideals of the Games, friendship, unity and sportsmanship was taken by Mr Zvi Ben-Zvi, an Israeli paraplegic from the 1947-48 War of Independence and one of the first Israeli participants at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1954. 

Wheelchair basketball player Avraham Tshuva described the first morning after the opening ceremony:

It was a spectacular sight to see the diverse costumes in different colours, the flags, and the athletes speaking different languages, heading out in a good mood to represent their countries.

During the Games

The athletes, officials and administrators were accommodated in the Kfar Maccabiah and Ramat-Aviv hotels. 

The hosts provided the opportunity for participants and officials to visit sites in the Holy Land by bus. These included Nazareth where they were met by the Arabic Mayor of Nazareth, Mr Mousa Kteily, and the Jewish Mayor of Upper Nazareth, Mr Mordechai Allon.  The visitors were blessed by Archishop Isodoros of the Greek Orthodox Church on behalf of all of the religious denominations of Nazareth before two choirs of Arabic and Jewish schoolchildren respectively sang to them. They were then taken to two kibbutzim (Israeli collective communities), Afikim and Beit Zera near Lake Tiberias, for lunch, before stopping on the return journey at the River Jordan where each visitor was presented with a small bottle of holy water which they saw being taken from the river by volunteers.

The Medals

1968 Tel Aviv Games gold medals

Gold medals from the Tel Aviv 1968 Games. Image courtesy of Ian Brittain.

The 1968 Paralympic medals displayed the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation emblem, which was also used for the logo for this Paralympics. The emblem shows three interlocking wheels to represent their values: friendship, unity and sportsmanship. 

In an attempt to reduce political tensions between the nations as they fought to prove their superiority, as had occurred in the 1968 Olympics, it was decided to have no official medal table during the Games or to play national anthems and raise the national flags during medal ceremonies. 

Many of the medals were presented by people like Moshe Dayan, defence minister of Israel, due to the high number of para-athletes who were war veterans using the Paralympics as rehabilitation from their injuries.

Medal statistics

Great Britain won 29 gold medals, 20 silver medals and 20 bronze medals, finishing 2nd of the 28 competing countries in the medal table.

Disclaimer
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

  • Valerie Robertson (nee Forder)
    Valerie came fourth in the individual medal table by achieving five gold medals across swimming and athletics which was her best Paralympic Games.  In her career she also won medals for her participation in archery and wheelchair fencing. Valerie helped to improve wheelchair access to the greens during lawn bowls as well as pioneering the addition of a ramp to assist with the launch of the bowls during the game. She became one of the leading female wheelchair bowlers and along with her husband was seen as having a significant impact on Scottish disability bowls and helping Scotland achieve international success in the game.
  • Carol Walton (nee Bryant)
    Carol, known as Caz, came seventh with three gold medals, two silver and one bronze medal. During her career she won 10 Paralympic gold medals through competing in athletics, table tennis, swimming and fencing which makes her one of the most successful British athletes.
    It seems Carol should have won gold, rather than bronze, in the Women’s Incomplete Class Pentathlon as the total score in the records only includes the first four events, so excludes the 639 points for the 50m swim. Had these points been added the total would have been 3126, 159 more than her British team mate, Margaret Gibbs, who was awarded gold.
    On retiring from international competitions she became the manager of GB’s Paralympic fencing team. She received an OBE in 2010 for her services to disability sport. Read more about Caz here
  • Gwen Buck
    Gwen came tenth with three gold medals and one silver across Table tennis, lawn bowls and swimming.
    In 1943, while riding over a level crossing on her bicycle, a lorry hit her. The accident broke her back and severed her spine and so she spent several years in St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey. In 1946 she was being transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital and met Ludwig Guttman who helped her learn to become an independent wheelchair user and so she soon began competing in the Stoke Mandeville Games as part of her rehabilitation. Helping improve the participation of young people in sport was important to Gwen as she visited many sports clubs and even helped to design the Stoke Mandeville stadium. In the early 1970s she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her work within sport and sporting success and was recognised for her achievements by being named Sportswoman of the Year by the Sports Writers Guild.
  • David Ellis
    The best performing Great Britain male athlete was David Ellis who won two gold and one silver medal from swimming. Throughout his career Ellis won a total of five gold medals and two silver.
  • Dr John Britton
    Winning gold, silver and bronze in swimming events, as well as silver in lawn bowls, he also competed in a variety of athletics events. Later, having emigrated Kenya, he won that country’s first gold for swimming at the Heidelberg Summer Paralympic Games in 1972.

Media coverage at the event

The 1968 Paralympics didn’t make that large an impact on society as many Israeli’s did not know the Games were taking place in their home country – perhaps due to the fact the Games were only announced two years in advance. 

Israeli wheelchair basketball player Avraham Tshuva recalled that as “The delegations gradually began to arrive from the different countries, hundreds of athletes with various degrees of disability. The sports papers began to post several items, some photographs appeared. The climax was the extensive articles published when Minister Yigal Alon opened the Games, after the procession attended by all the delegations at the stadium of the Jerusalem University”.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony was held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on 13th November and began at 6pm. Deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon, and the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Mordechai Namir, attended the event which included a display from dancers from the three Kibbutzim in the Jordan Valley.

The Deputy Prime Minister closed the Games and congratulated the participants for their contribution towards world unity.

References

  • Ian Brittain (2009) The Paralympic Games Explained. Taylor & Francis.
  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing
  • https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1010781/1968-tel-aviv-
  • https://www.paralympic.org/tel-aviv-1968
  • https://www.paralympic.org/tel-aviv-1968/medals
  • https://tokyo2020.org/en/news/notice/20180907-02.html
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/tel-aviv-1968-transforming-destiny
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/tel-aviv-1968-baruch-hagai-relives-gold
  • https://www.bbc.com/timelines/zcmgv4j
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/44th-anniversary-1968-games
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/tel-aviv-1968-celebrating-50-years#
  • www.iwasf.com/iwas/index.cfm/iwas-news1/following-the-death-of-gershon-huberman/
  • https://m.paralympic.org/sdms4/hira/web/competition/tel-aviv-1968
  • https://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/590284.obituary-gwen-buck/
  • https://www.rio.paralympics.org.uk/news/article/caz-walton-honoured-by-swoty-lifetime-achievement-award
  • https://www.wheelpower.org.uk/characters/carol-walton-obe
  • https://www.stadiumguide.com/ramat-gan-stadium/
  • http://www.cadoret-raanana.com/83398/t