Inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport: part 1 – rights and challenges in Qatar


Sport is considered a powerful tool to promote social inclusion and improve the well-being of people with disabilities (PD). While it can put people on a fair social footing,1 people with disabilities remain underrepresented in sport and physical activity compared to their non-disabled peers.

The participation of people with disabilities in sport is influenced by the type and severity of the disability. Those with learning disabilities or profound and multiple disabilities have the lowest levels of participation.1 Globally, disability rates are increasing dramatically, currently estimated at more than one billion people , including 190 million people (3.8%) who experience significant difficulty functioning.2 In Qatar, census data estimates that 1.2% of the population has a disability, with 232 athletes registered with the Qatar Paralympic Committee (QPC).3 However, it is important to note that defining and operationalizing disability remains a challenge despite significant progress in measurement. Qatar has about 1.3 million employees, mostly young and healthy men, and uses a narrow definition of disability to estimate the number of people with disabilities. Therefore, the Washington Group questions should be adopted in the future to measure persons with disabilities more accurately.4

Over the past decades, the State of Qatar has made tangible progress in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities. For example, various projects, initiatives and programs that meet the needs of persons with disabilities, while protecting their fundamental human rights, have been developed. Furthermore, the QPC is committed not only to enabling para-athletes to achieve sporting excellence, but also to developing sporting opportunities for all persons with disabilities in Qatar (beginner to elite).5 This editorial reflects on the how sport and physical activities affect people with disabilities in Qatar and the barriers to their participation.

Rights of persons with disabilities: inclusion and sport

As a form of social engagement, participation in sport is a fundamental human right supported by many international and national policies, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), the UNESCO KAZAN Plan of Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Qatar Law No. 2 of 2004 and the Doha Declaration of 2019 (see Table 1). Qatar, like any state, has an obligation to take proactive and appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities participate in all aspects of society on an equitable basis. The rights of persons with disabilities have also been highlighted in Qatar’s National Vision 2030 and in Qatar’s First (2011-2016) and Second (2018-2022) National Development Strategies. Although Qatar has taken significant steps to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, challenges persist and persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in all forms of cultural life, including sports.

Table 1

A summary of international and national policies supporting the rights and needs of people with disabilities (PD)

Disability and sport

In this editorial, the term disability sport is used to refer to all sports, physical activities, recreation and leisure for and involving people with disabilities, including adaptive sport or parasport.6 Adapted physical activity is found in different areas application, including inclusive and specialized physical education. , competitive sport and recreational physical activity; and can be placed on an equal footing with traditional modalities.

Adapted modalities

The QPC is responsible for managing participation in the Paralympic Games and other international competitions, as well as providing opportunities for people with disabilities in Qatar to participate in sports at all levels. The Paralympics are an international sporting event in which para-athletes compete in six disability groups (amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injury, intellectual disability and ‘the others’ – any disability that does not does not fit into any of the other categories). The Paralympic movement recognizes 10 types of disability and para-athletes are further divided into classes based on the type and extent of their disability.7

The International Paralympic Committee serves as the umbrella organization representing all disability sports. It supports over 200 members, including 182 National Paralympic Committees (of which QPC is 1), 4 Paralympic Sports Federations (Boccia, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby) and 4 International Sports Organizations for people with disabilities who focus on the development of basic sport, namely CP-ISRA (cerebral palsy), IBSA (visual impairment), IWAS (wheelchair and amputee) and Virtus (intellectual disability), among others (see supplementary file on line).

benefits of sport

The benefits of sport are universal for everyone, including people with disabilities. Through sport, people with disabilities can advance social inclusion, health and life skills.8 It promotes social and psychological well-being by providing opportunities for friendship, a sense of self, meaning and a purpose in life. It positively affects the way people with disabilities perceive their bodies, leading to better mood states, less stress and higher self-esteem.9 It develops social connectedness, better communication and better management of the stigma associated with disability.10 Despite these universal benefits, people with disabilities face a variety of barriers to participating in sports and other physical activities.

Challenges and Constraints

The factors that hinder the sport participation of people with disabilities are summarized here in three categories9. Intrapersonal stresses involve psychological conditions internal to the individual (eg, personality, attitudes, mood, stress, and perceived self-competence). Interpersonal constraints arise from interactions with other members of society. Structural constraints include factors such as lack of opportunity and accessibility or the cost of activities that result from external environmental conditions. Additionally, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant influence on sport and physical activity, resulting in the closure of sport and physiotherapy facilities and spaces. It has also resulted in the unprecedented postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the cancellation of sporting activities at all levels, directly limiting the social opportunities and benefits of global, regional and local sporting events for people with disabilities.11

In Qatar, it is difficult to produce evidence-based policies due to the lack of adequate data on disabilities. Pockets of data collected by scattered entities, combined with dated or sparse figures from previous censuses, have resulted in the disability community not receiving the support it deserves, whether locally or globally. 12

Recognizing these obstacles and challenges creates an undeniable opportunity to effect change. Qatar has gone through several formative stages and is currently mature with prospects of becoming an inclusive nation. Going forward, evidence should be generated to better describe the current state of disability and inclusion in sport in Qatar. National and international organizations must also work together to increase opportunities and access for people with disabilities to sports activities. Governments have an important role to play in supporting such initiatives, increasing funding and promoting awareness of the importance of sport participation for people with disabilities.

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This article is part of a series commissioned by the bjsm for the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2022. bjsm peer reviewed, edited and made the decision to publish. The series, including open access fees, is funded by WISH, which is an initiative of the Qatar Foundation.


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