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Empower, Inspire, Achieve: (Dis)Empowerment and the Paralympic Games

This paper undertakes a critical examination of the International Paralympic Committee’s desire to use the Paralympic Games as a vehicle to empower individuals with a disability. We achieve this by applying Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological concepts of habitus and capital to semi-structured interviews conducted with Paralympic stakeholders. Interviewees included current and former Paralympians, active and retired disability sport administrators, social researchers of disability and disability sport, and disability rights advocates. The paper starts by highlighting the distinctive cultural context of the Paralympic Movement, before exploring the potential for the Paralympic Games to act as a source of empowerment, through the creation of sporting and lifestyle role-models. Findings suggest Paralympians are considered most likely to gain empowerment from the Paralympic Games, yet their specific impairment, athletic lifestyles and failure to identify as ‘disabled’ were identified as potentially limiting the ability of the Paralympic Games to empower others.