One of the defining characteristics of Uzbek society is the emphasis on inclusivity. During the Soviet period there was a tendency to institutionalise the handicapped, but since independence there has been a growing trend to keep them within the family and the local community (mahalla). Sports activities, too, have become more inclusive. The Paralympic movement emerged in Uzbekistan at the end of the 1990s. Since then, increasing effort has been put into creating a nation-wide network of facilities to cater for special needs. These include centres that are staffed with experienced trainers and mentors, appropriate medical care and such essential services as the provision of custom-designed prosthetic limbs.
The country first competed in the Summer Paralympics in Athens in 2004. Only one athlete took part ‒ the power lifter Yusup Kadyrov ‒ and he did not win a medal. In 2008 (Beijing), two athletes took part and 2012 (London) the Uzbek Paralympic team won its first medal ‒ Farhod Saydov’s silver medal for swimming. Thereafter, increasing numbers of disabled Uzbek athletes took part in international events, competing in a wide range of categories. In 2014, during the General Assembly of the Asian Paralympic Committee in Abu Dhabi, the National Paralympic Association of Uzbekistan (NPAUz) was declared as the best sports organization of the Asian continent. The efforts of the NPAUz bore fruit in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio, when the Uzbek team netted a spectacular 31 awards, including eight gold and six silver medals. Their strongest performances were in athletics, judo and swimming. Further success followed in the International Blind Sports Federation Judo Championships in 2017, when male and female Uzbek athletes together won some 17 medals. Since then, Uzbek teams have continued to participate in other such competitions, notably the Asian Para-Games, with great success.
The provision of special sports facilities for children with disabilities began slightly later. However, in 2006, some 90 young Uzbek athletes took part in the country’s celebration, the country’s first-ever National Special Olympics. In 2013-14, UNICEF and the Special Olympics Uzbekistan, with the support of the Ministry of Education, implemented a year-long project entitled ‘Education without Restrictions’, aimed at involving children with disabilities in sports. The programme sought to raise awareness of their special needs and to encourage them to compete in a wide range of sports activities.
Meanwhile, there is growing support for the Special Olympics Unified Sports, a world-wide movement which is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. On-going assistance from the state, as well as a strong chain of formal and informal support systems, has raised para-sports in Uzbekistan from the amateur level to an internationally respected professional level. Today, Uzbek Paralympians are celebrated along with other famous sports personalities and provide inspiring role models for young and old alike, whatever their capabilities.