Sports and intellectual disability: a clash of cultures?

Roy McConkey (University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland)

Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities

ISSN: 2044-1282

Publication date: 5 September 2016



The purpose of this paper is to argue that sports, play and games have contributed immensely to human evolution and development.


This paper is a commentary.


Often dismissed as past-times or amusements, a wealth of research has now evidenced the benefits of sports to children, youth, adults and senior citizens. Physical health, emotional well-being, friendships, learning/cognition and self-esteem are all positively impacted through participation in sports. Yet these benefits are rarely exploited for people with intellectual disabilities. A fundamental reason is that the culture of health and social services is the antithesis of that inherent in sports. Reconciliation is clearly desirable but it requires innovative and creative actions from both sectors.


Examples are given based on emerging experience and evidence but their implementation remains a daunting challenge with as yet few “fans” in support of harnessing the power of sport to improve the quality of life of people with intellectual disability.



McConkey, R. (2016), "Sports and intellectual disability: a clash of cultures?", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 10 No. 5, pp. 293-298.

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