Counting The Cost Of Paralympics Success

Expert Examines Key Issues Disabled Athletes Face In Search For Glory


Anne Luttman-Johnson, a client support manager in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Serious Injury team, takes a look back at the Winter Paralympics and considers the tough challenges that disabled athletes often face in getting to such tournaments.

Have you been hooked on the Winter Paralympics?  Watching in awe as these amazing sportsmen and women hurtle down the mountain, some using ingenious aids to enable them to compete and achieve astonishing results.  The years of dedication and practice that they must have put in to produce the outcomes we all witnessed is staggering. 

However, it all comes at a cost.  Sadly there are some competitors who never made it to the Paralympics, simply because a lack of funds prevented them from getting to the level necessary to be able to compete.

Sit skiers are a particular case in point. Many of them have suffered spinal cord injuries or are lower limb amputees and the seats they use to enable them to communicate with their ski, and produce the death defying downhill and slalom runs we witnessed, are bespoke items.  The seat has to fit the wearer tightly and the suspension balanced to the correct weight. 

They alone cost thousands of pounds, but then there are the additional costs including the outriggers, clothing and helmets; and of course the assistance that most sit skiers need to help them in the early days when learning the sport.

However, skiing is not the only sport that requires expensive equipment to enable someone to take part.  As we witnessed in 2012 at the summer Paralympics in London, the wheelchair racers had sleek, stylish racing wheelchairs designed solely for the purpose of enabling someone to push themselves at astonishing speeds. 

In addition, the basketball and tennis chairs have heavily cambered wheels and one or two little wheels at the back to prevent backward tipping.  The wheelchair rugby, or murderball, players sit in wheelchair tanks to provide them with the protection they need.

These wheelchairs all cost considerable sums of money.  Moreover the wear and tear they receive is significant so spare parts, or total replacements, are a regular part of a sports person’s financial outlay.  Transporting these chairs also comes at a cost with many needing large vehicles for this purpose. 

Over the years, funding for Paralympic sports has increased, but this only applies to those who have already reached a certain level in that sport.  So the first few years spent learning the sport and the daily practice, including all the physical workouts to achieve the necessary fitness level, have to be self funded.  For many disabled people this is a totally unrealistic expectation.

However those who have been seriously injured, that have been able to seek justice in relation to their injuries, may not always realise that help could be on hand to them.

When assessing compensation for an injury the Courts should look at all aspects of the injured person’s life to ensure they are not going to be financially disadvantaged by their disability.  This means that where an individual enjoys playing sports, the purchase of the necessary aids and equipment, the annual maintenance costs and the assistance required to pursue that sport, should all be built into someone’s claim.

At Irwin Mitchell, we have been acting for very seriously injured people for many years and we have a database of experts that help us to quantify all aspects of a claim, including the cost of sport both for competitive and leisure purposes.

For us, compensation is only part of the story and we work to ensure clients are able to not only continue with sport but also take up and try new activities.

The inspirational stories behind so many of the competitors who take part in both the summer and winter Paralympics should never be forgotten, while the feats they have achieved have shown that in many cases anything is possible.

Who knows what we will be seeing in two years’ time in Rio and four years’ time in Pyeongchang?  We are proud to be able to help people embrace sport and look to the future after they have suffered serious injury or disability – and we look forward to cheering on some of our clients at the events in the future!