The above slogan was spotted back in July this year at the International Dragon Boat Federation’s
(IDBF) Club Crew World Championships held in Sarasota, USA. It was on a shirt worn by a para
athlete competing at the championships and sparked a lot of comment and interest from those
who were there. What was behind this? And why does it matter?
This was the first world championships to include racing for para athletes or ‘Paradragons’ as they
are known within dragon boating. The IDBF has made huge strides forward over the last few years
to develop this category, but this was the first time that Paradragon teams had raced against each
other to try to become world champions. It was the culmination of a 5-year programme that has
included writing some innovative race rules to ensure almost anyone could compete,
development of coaching material specifically for those involved with Paradragons, global
webinars and a general raising of awareness.
Mike Thomas, IDBF President said: “The IDBF has always tried hard to ensure dragon boating is as
inclusive as possible, but the Paradragon programme has taken this to a new level. Our sport is
unusual in requiring such large teams (typically 20 paddlers comprise a crew) and we realised very
early on that one of the biggest challenges would be finding a way so that people living with all
sorts of impairments could compete fairly against each other. We formed a small team, led by
Nigel Bedford, of people who were passionate about both dragon boating and inclusion and gave
them free rein. The result is a remarkable approach that is probably unique in international sport.”
Nigel Bedford, Chair of the IDBF’s Paradragon Commission explained: “For us, a Paradragon is
someone living with any physical, psychological, neurological, sensory, intellectual, or
developmental impairment. These six main types of impairment cover a simply huge range of
different conditions that can affect the individual’s ability to paddle. Throw in age and gender and
you can understand the complexity of the problem. So what we did was to develop a scoring
mechanism to take into account all of the possible variables. First of all, we ‘score’ an affected
athlete on his or her degree of impairment then we make adjustments to that score for age and
gender. The scores for each paddler are then added together to give an overall crew score.
Provided the crew score is within a specified limit, the crew is ‘conforming’ and can race. It means
a young blind paddler can be in the same crew as an older person who is missing a limb or living
with multiple sclerosis or some mental health issue. The concept is actually quite simple, and it
So, what about that slogan on that shirt? Well, the shirt was worn by a young Paradragon
acknowledging that she had to live with challenges in life that an unimpaired person didn’t face,
but she could compete in a sport that gave her equal opportunities. She may not have thought
about it when she had the shirt made, but it was a clear signal of the inclusion she felt in her
beloved dragon boating.
Taking the photograph below it is impossible to identify those paddlers living with impairments
which proves the point about inclusion in dragon boating. Those living with impairments can feel
completely part of an event, while those racing against them or watching have no idea about the
challenges individual paddlers may face in life.
More and more traditional dragon boat clubs are embracing Paradragons into their community, who recognise the richness that diversity brings to their clubs. Although some may not have the right facilities for all impairments, for example, the existing layout may not be suitable for wheelchair users, but could look after other impairments. Globally we are now finding specific Paradragon clubs. For the individual Paradragon, this means they can access a sport that offers them physical activity that can promote their recovery and wellbeing, and a team environment that promotes companionship and social skills. Dragon boating is proud to be one of those sports where ‘inclusion’ is integral to all we do.
If you want to know more about the world of Paradragons, a good starting place is the IDBF website, which you can access by visiting www.dragonboat.sport/paradragons or using the QR code: