Kōrero: Disability sport

‘Every New Zealander no matter what their ability has the right to participate in the sport or active recreation pursuit of their choice – there are no exceptions!’, stated Olympic gold medallist runner Murray Halberg, whose left arm was paralysed in a rugby accident. New Zealand athletes with disabilities have excelled at national and international level.

He kōrero nā Ian McDonald
Te āhua nui: Sophie Pascoe, Halberg Award winner, 2011

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Development of disability sport

Murray Halberg’s gold-medal performance in the 5,000 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympics highlighted the potential of athletes with disabilities. Paralympian Leo Close helped organise sport for disabled people, with the first inter-regional games held at Christchurch in 1966. New Zealand disabled athletes now compete at all levels.

From 1987, disabled children were brought into the mainstream education system and sought the same opportunities as their able-bodied friends. In 1998, the Hillary Commission developed a No Exceptions strategy which encouraged people with disabilities to play sport.

The Halberg Disability Sport Foundation (now the Halberg Foundation), founded by Murray Halberg, raises funds to help provide sporting opportunities for young people with disabilities. Since 2011, the annual Halberg Awards have included an award for the Disabled Sportsperson (now the Para Athlete) of the Year.

Disability and para sports

New Zealanders compete in a wide range of disability and para sports at local, national and international levels. Some sports have been adapted from existing sports, and others have been created as new sports.


Rome hosted the first Paralympics in 1960. They are held every four years, following the Olympic Games. Athletes are placed into sport classes based on their impairment and compete at graded levels. The first Paralympics New Zealand attended was in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1968. New Zealand has won many medals at both summer and winter Paralympic Games. 

The Commonwealth Paraplegic Games were held every four years between 1962 and 1974, just before or after the able-bodied games. High costs and practical difficulties led to the last separate games being held at Dunedin in 1974. From 1994, events for disabled athletes were included in the Commonwealth Games. Since 2002, disabled athletes have been full members of their national teams.

Special Olympics and Deaflympics

The Special Olympics movement was founded in America in 1968 to provide Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics New Zealand was founded in 1983. Star performers at regional and national events qualify for the Special Olympics World Summer and World Winter Games.

The Deaflympics began in 1924 as the International Silent Games. They are held every two years, with summer and winter sports alternating. Christchurch hosted the 1989 games, in which 995 athletes from 30 countries competed.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ian McDonald, 'Disability sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/disability-sport (accessed 16 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Ian McDonald, i tāngia i te 5 o Hepetema 2013, updated 1 o Pēpuere 2022 me te āwhina o Catriona McBean