VUB researches social value of Paralympic Games

VUB researches social value of Paralympic Games

Belgians proud of Paralympic medals and consider Paralympians role models for everyone

The Belgian population believes that the Paralympic Games and performances are important and should be given attention, according to a study by the VUB research group SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success). The researchers found that Belgians consider Paralympic athletes to be role models for young people with disabilities (86%) and believe the Games should be actively used to promote parasports (79%). This view is reflected by people with disabilities included in the study. Belgians also believe that these athletes ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in society (82%). Good Paralympic performances, like good performances at the Olympic Games, lead to pride and happiness among the Belgian population (77% and 70% respectively).

Professor Veerle De Bosscher of SPLISS:  “To be able to equal or better this in Paris in 2024, we need more resources to support our Paralympic athletes and their entourage. When the budget is limited, hard choices often have to be made in the selection of sports and athletes. Flanders is at a high point of performance, in both Olympic and Paralympic sports, and does a lot with limited resources, compared to other countries. Do we want to aim even higher? Yes, we do, we can. Since 2006, the Netherlands has aimed to be in the world’s top 10 and surpassed itself in Tokyo in 2020 with its best-ever performance: fifth in the Paralympic Games (59 medals) and seventh in the Olympics (36 medals). This is based on long-term planning, clear priorities and very efficient policy and engagement of partners in local and national government, media and business. Flanders has made great strides in recent years in its strategic approach to top-level sports policy: we do a lot with limited resources. If top-class sport has a high societal value according to Flemish people, we need to invest further. Because top-class sport connects, inspires, creates identity and makes people proud and happy.”

In August 2021, SPLISS carried out its fourth population survey among 1,000 residents of Flanders and 1,000 people in Wallonia and Brussels, to gauge the social impact of top-level sports, people’s sports preferences and knowledge, their willingness to pay for top-level sports and which top-level athletes they see as role models. In addition, a short monthly questionnaire was conducted to monitor the societal impact of top-level sports. The sample for all questionnaires was representative for place of residence, gender, age, employment status, educational level, migration background and disability. This report presents the preliminary key findings on the Paralympic Games.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo were postponed from the summer of 2020 to 2021. Consequently, data collection was also temporarily paused and restarted in 2021. The Paralympic Games were held from 24 August to 5 September.

Survey about the Paralympic Games

During the measurement period, both in Flanders and Wallonia/Brussels, 13 propositions were put forward concerning attitudes to the Paralympic Games. Overall, Belgians appear to attach great importance to the Paralympic Games, Paralympic athletes and media coverage of the Games.

What is the public value of the Paralympic Games for Belgians?

The Belgian population attaches great importance to the Paralympic Games:

- 73% consider it important for the country to win medals at the Paralympic Games (compared to 70% for the Olympics).

- 4 out of 5 Belgians (80%) believe that winning a medal at the Paralympic Games is just as important as winning one at the Olympic Games. 12% are neutral and 8% attach less value to a Paralympic medal.

Belgians experience pride and happiness at the achievements of Paralympic athletes: 

- 77% (totally) agree that they are proud of our Paralympic athletes when they perform well (compared to 73% for the Olympics)

- 70% say that the performances of our top Paralympic athletes make them happy (compared to 67% for the Olympics)

- 77% agree or strongly agree that top-level Paralympic sporting achievements contribute to the international image of our country (compared to 81% for the Olympics)

What is the role of Paralympic athletes in society?

Paralympic athletes act as role models

- 86% of the Belgian population agree or strongly agree that our Paralympic athletes are role models for young people with disabilities. Only 5% indicate that they (somewhat) disagree with this statement. It is striking that Belgians indicate that Paralympic athletes serve as role models even more than Olympic athletes: 82% (totally) agree that our Olympic athletes are role models for young people.

- More than 4 in 5 Belgians (82%) agree that Paralympic athletes can promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in society

- Nearly 4 in 5 (79%) believe that top-level Paralympians should be actively involved in promoting parasports among young people with disabilities

Respondents with physical disabilities confirm these figures:

- 4 out of 5 Belgians with physical disabilities (82%) consider our Paralympic athletes role models for young people with disabilities. Among Belgians with mental disabilities, 3 in 5 indicate that Paralympians are role models for young people with disabilities (64%).

What is the attitude of the Belgian population towards top-level parasport?

Belgians want people with a disability to be able to participate in high-level sport

- 81% agree that para-athletes should be financially supported to participate in the Paralympic Games. 56% of respondents fully agree with this proposition.

- 84% agree or strongly agree that people with disabilities should be able to practise sports according to their needs and abilities, whether or not in a regular sports club

The Belgian population likes to follow parasports through the media

- More than half of the population (60%) likes to follow the Paralympic Games on TV

- These figures are even higher among Belgians with a physical disability (64%) and those with a mental disability (69%)

- 58% of the Belgian population indicate that they would like to follow parasports in general more on TV, either live events or reporting

- Here again, Belgians with physical (68%) and intellectual disabilities (67%) show a greater interest

What sports preferences do Belgians have?

- The Paralympic sports in which Belgians want to see results are (sports mostly placed in the top 5):

1) Athletics 48%

2) Cycling 32%

3) Wheelchair tennis 26%

4) Wheelchair basketball 22%

5) Swimming 22%

The Belgian population finds it particularly important that Olympic and Paralympic athletes reflect some specific Olympic values.   

The five most important values are:

1) Doing your best (42 %)

2 ) Equality (38 %)

3) Tolerance (34%)

4) Anti-discrimination (32%)

5) Friendship (33 %) 

SPLISS research into Paralympics spending

Since 2002 the research group SPLISS (Sports Policy factors leading to international Sporting Success) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has been conducting international comparative research into top-level sports policy and the success of countries. SPLISS investigates the characteristics of an efficient and effective policy. In the analysis above, the group collected data on Paralympic spending in 13 countries.

- These are highest in Brazil, the United Kingdom and Canada, all exceeding €20 million a year in 2020.

- In Flanders, spending amounts to €1.22 million, which is 4% of the total top-level sports budget. This is low in absolute and relative terms compared to other countries and regions: in the Netherlands the figure is €3.8 million (5.2%) and in Brazil €22%. It is higher than 10% in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Portugal. The budget for Wallonia and Brussels is not known.

Belgium performed well at the Tokyo Paralympics, winning 15 medals, four more than at the Rio Games in 2016. The medals were won in five sports: equestrianism, athletics, table tennis and track and road cycling. Great Britain won 124 and the Netherlands 59. New Zealand has a similar budget to Flanders and won “only” 12 medals. Denmark did less well than Flanders with five medals.

Expenditure on top-class sport for Paralympics (13 countries)

What percentage of total top-level sports expenditure goes to Paralympic sports?



Switzerland: Swiss Paralympic is partly funded by the FOSPO/Lotteries through Swiss Olympic. In 2018 this funding was 160,000 CHF. It is mainly funded by two private associations for disability sports, which receive funding from the national invalidity insurance and private donations. This is not included in the presented budget.

Denmark: In line with non-disability elite sport expenditures, the data includes an estimate of €1.65 million funded by the DIF federations (a national umbrella organisation for all elite sport federations in Denmark and also the National Olympic Committee).

Australia: From 2017-2020, the average was 5.8% of elite sport funding. Breakdown by year:

2017 = 3.3%

2018 = 3.3%

2019 = 9.8%

2020 = 5.9%


Contact information


Prof. dr. Veerle De Bosscher, Drs. Jens De Rycke, Drs. Eva Gielens, Prof. Dr. Inge Derom, Kari Descheemaeker. Onderzoekseenheid SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success) en SASO (Sport and Society) - [email protected] - 0486/526060

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